Comeback Cats: Hoops recover to defeat South Carolina



By Boyd Hayes | @KernelHayes

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UK head coach Matthew Mitchell had to brush the dust off last season’s playbook to guide his No. 9 UK Hoops team to the largest comeback in his era at UK.

Going with a four-guard set reminiscent of seasons passed, UK (22-3, 10-2 SEC) clawed its way back from a 16-point second-half deficit to defeat No. 16 South Carolina 78-74 at Memorial Coliseum Thursday.

“We felt like we could change it up a little bit and get some energy out there, so we went with a four-guard lineup,” Mitchell said. “(We) sort of went old-school Kentucky there, with four guards and one post, and we were able to get it back going.”

After shooting 12-of-39 (30.8 percent) from the field in the first half, in which South Carolina (20-5, 8-4 SEC) shot 56.3 percent, the Cats trailed 44-30 at halftime.

Unsure what to expect from Mitchell, the Cats entered the locker room at halftime to words of calm encouragement.

“(Mitchell) just came in and said, ‘let that half go. We can’t make a 14-point play,’” senior guard A’dia Mathies said.

The Gamecocks pushed the lead to 16 points early in the second half. Every time the Cats scored, South Carolina had an answer.

Such was the case until a small UK run turned the game around, and the Coliseum was electrified by hopes of a monumental comeback.

“The crowd was unbelievable tonight,” Mitchell said. “I don’t care how strong you are, how tough you are emotionally, how strong you are mentally, when Memorial Coliseum explodes like that, it is a huge advantage for us …  it’s got to be tough on the opponent.”

With 7:19 left to play, the Cats trailed 68-60, at which point a 9-0 run, capped by a three-pointer from Mathies, gave UK the lead at 69-68.

“That was a huge three that really electrified the crowd,” Mitchell said. “And I’m sure it was somewhat deflating to South Carolina.”

South Carolina was quick to tie the game at 69-69 from the free-throw line, but UK junior guard Kastine Evans drained a three to push the Cats ahead once more with 3:17 to play, almost blowing the roof off Memorial Coliseum in the process.

With 45 seconds to play, and the game tied at 72-72, UK sophomore guard Jennifer O’Neill passed up an open three, dishing the ball instead to an open Evans under the basket. Evans laid it in to give UK the lead for the final time.

O’Neill led all scorers with 19 points. Mathies was a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe as she scored 15 points and led the team in rebounds with seven and steals with four.