Gamecocks spoil Cats’ Senior Day

By James Pennington

As the women’s basketball team showcased its four seniors in front of a home crowd for the final time yesterday, Cats fans left disappointed as the home team lost to South Carolina 65-57 at Rupp Arena on UK’s Senior Day.

UK (14-14, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) shot just 27.6 percent from the field, and USC forward Lakesha Tolliver posted 21 points and 12 rebounds to spoil seniors Sarah Elliott, Samantha Mahoney, Chante Bowman and Chelsea Chowning’s last home game.

“We’re very disappointed in the game today,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Our team worked hard to prepare for the game, but we just didn’t ever play well offensively. It’s sad for our seniors that we couldn’t make this a truly special day for them, but give a lot of credit to a tough, aggressive South Carolina team.”

The Gamecocks (15-14, 4-10 SEC) won the opening tip and controlled the game early on. USC opened the game on a 9-0 run, and the Cats didn’t score for the first 4:13 of the game until junior guard Carly Ormerod sank 2-of-3 free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt.

Despite the slow start, the Cats fought to get within one possession at 15-12 with 8:55 left in the half on a pair of free throws from junior forward Eleia Roddy.

However, after Roddy’s free throws, the Gamecocks controlled the rest of the half, closing out on an 18-7 run. During that stretch, the Cats hit only two field goals, both by sophomore guard Amani Franklin.

In all, UK shot 3-of-22 from the field in the first half, posting 13.6 percent from the field.

“We don’t play very good offense – it’s been a trouble spot for us all year,” Mitchell said. “And we didn’t play good defense, which would’ve provided us opportunities for high-percentage shots in transition. We just could not get out of that funk in the first half.”

Once the second half began, the Cats started chipping at their deficit. It took less than five minutes for them to cut the Gamecocks’ advantage in half, using a 12-5 to bring the contest to 38-31 with 15:16 left.

However, USC quickly answered with an 8-3 run over the next four and a half minutes, expanding their lead to 12 points, 46-34, with 10:44 remaining in the contest. Of the eight Gamecock points in that stretch, Tolliver netted six.

“Lakesha played a tremendous game today,” USC head coach Susan Walvius said. “Our post players have been wanting the ball all year, and our game plan today was to feed our players in the post. Today, the guards delivered to the post players, and the post players delivered for the team.”

Despite the 12-point Gamecock advantage, the Cats did not fold. Sparked by a 3-pointer from Chowning, the Cats ran off 10 straight points and closed within one possession of the Gamecocks at 46-44 with 7:10 left in the contest.

The run brought the 5,803 Rupp Arena fans to their feet and forced Walvius to refocus her team’s effort.

“Usually when we try to refocus in the middle of a game, we focus on defense,” Walvius said. “We’ve learned from past years that if we can frustrate our opponent’s offense, we can do a solid enough job on offense to win games.”

The Cats could not get any closer than two points. Gamecock guard Jordan Jones sealed the Cats’ losing fate by scoring seven straight points, expanding the Carolina lead to 59-49 with 1:28 to play.

“Jordan Jones is a competitor that comes through in the clutch,” Walvius said. “When things get tight, that’s her comfort zone. That’s when she plays her best, and she really came through for us today.”

The loss puts UK’s plans for postseason play in jeopardy. A victory against USC and one win in the upcoming SEC Tournament would have made a strong argument for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Now, the Cats’ postseason hopes – NCAA or WNIT – are anything but certain.

The Cats, however, secured a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament after Tennessee defeated Georgia 72-63 last night. The Cats will play the winner of the Georgia-Alabama game Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Nashville.

“We really had pressure on ourselves to win this game, but this game is over and now we have to focus our energy towards winning games in the SEC Tournament,” Mahoney said, “and that’s what we’re going to do.”