Updated at: 02/14/2013 9:38 PM
(AP) LEXINGTON, Ky. - South Carolina coach Dawn Staley wasn’t in the mood to talk after her No. 14 Gamecocks squandered a 14-point first-half lead.
No. 14 South Carolina’s coach, Dawn Staley, was not happy Thursday after holding a comfortable 44-30 halftime lead and shooting a season-high 56 percent only to surrender it all and lose 78-74 on the road to No. 9 Kentucky.
Staley didn’t have much to say when she took the dais at Memorial Coliseum after South Carolina held a 44-30 halftime lead on 56 percent shooting only to surrender it all and lose 78-74 on the road to No. 9 Kentucky.
"They scored more points than we did," Staley said of the Wildcats.
The Gamecocks (20-5, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) shot 18 of 32 in the first half, and continued their efficiency early in the second. They made their first five attempts after halftime and did not miss a shot until 11:05 was left.
But the Wildcats (22-3, 10-2) answered methodically, limiting their turnovers and maximizing opportunities despite a rebounding disadvantage.
A’dia Mathies hit a 3-pointer with 3:50 to play that gave Kentucky its first lead of the second half at 69-68. South Carolina never regained the lead, but it did tie the game twice. Kastine Evans broke the last tie with a two-pump-fake lay-up with 24.4 seconds left.
Jennifer O’Neill and Evans each hit a pair of free throws in the final 15 seconds to cement Kentucky’s 10th league win of the season.
"We just knew we had to grind it out, go out and put a focus on winning every four-minute set," Mathies said. "I don’t know how many we won, but we obviously won enough. We got the victory. We know we couldn’t make a 14-point play. So we just knew we had to grind it out and get stop after stop. We got a win doing it."
South Carolina looked ready to pull away early in the game. It went on a 13-2 run over a four-minute stretch in the first half, silencing the 5,828 fans at Memorial Coliseum. Each time the Wildcats worked their way back into close range in the first half, South Carolina had an answer.
Asia Dozier hit a 3-pointer as time expired in the first half to give the Gamecocks a 44-30 lead at the break, and South Carolina’s lead reached its widest margin at 46-30 with 19:41 to play.
The Wildcats were expecting a tongue lashing from coach Matthew Mitchell at halftime. Instead, he stayed calm and encouraged his team to slowly work its way back in the game, embracing the process instead of searching for a 14-point play.
"That’s such a difficult half to watch, and you feel bad and everybody’s down," Mitchell said. "You have to show some leadership at that time. You must get in there_it’s your job as a coach to figure out how to change it."
It was South Carolina’s first loss of the season when leading at halftime; the Gamecocks are now 18-1 in such games.
Staley was asked if losing in such a game_when the offense performed as well as it did all season, especially in such a rowdy environment, was more discouraging than any of the team’s other four losses this season. Staley didn’t elaborate much.
"It’s always frustrating to lose a basketball game that we’re very capable of winning," she said.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)