LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Needing something to keep the outcome intact, Aliyah Boston made the critical play that helped South Carolina keep rolling with a hard-earned road win.
Boston had 14 points and 15 rebounds, including a key free throw before making a steal late that helped the top-ranked Gamecocks get past Kentucky 59-50 on Thursday night for their 10th consecutive victory.
The Gamecocks (22-1, 10-1 Southeastern Conference) led by as many as 18 points early in the fourth quarter before the Wildcats fought back — with Rhyne Howard scoring 16 of her 21 points in the quarter.
She got Kentucky to within 55-48 with 1:25 remaining on a three-point play. A review of a loose ball gave Kentucky possession, but Howard missed a jumper. Destanni Henderson and Lele Grissett each made one of two free throws to give South Carolina some needed space.
Treasure Hunt’s two free throws with 53 seconds left got Kentucky within 58-50, but Boston made a free throw a couple of seconds later. The junior forward then made a steal with 24 seconds left that helped the Gamecocks run out of the clock and sweep the Wildcats for its 14th series win in 15 meetings.
“We escaped with a win here,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “We built a big lead, but it’s Kentucky. That’s our rival, and we always seem to make it interesting. They always make it interesting.”
Kentucky (9-11, 2-8) dropped its fourth consecutive game and eighth of nine overall. But like several recent close losses, the Wildcats didn’t go without a fight — especially Howard, who shook off straining her right thumb early in the game to come up big in the rally.
The senior, a national Player of the Year candidate, made 6 of 8 shots in the fourth quarter, including all three from long range, to finish 8 of 15 shooting with all four of Kentucky’s 3-pointers on 14 attempts.
“It was throbbing the whole game,” Howard said afterward of her thumb. She was wearing a brace on her right arm. “I was hoping adrenaline would kick in so I wouldn’t feel it as much, but it was hard to catch the ball and dribble because obviously you use the thumb for a lot.”
Boston, also a national Player of the Year candidate, again thrived on both ends, posting her 17th double-double in 18 games. South Carolina outshot Kentucky just 39% to 36% but controlled the boards 46-35.
The totals included a 20-10 edge offensively, helping the Gamecocks forge a 21-4 advantage in second-chance points that mattered big in a game where points came the hard way. They also owned the paint 46-26.
Zia Cooke added 10 points and Victaria Saxton had eight with 11 rebounds for South Carolina.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ rebounding created a lot of offensive opportunities, sometimes third chances that they converted. Those baskets offset a rough second-quarter drought and a handful of turnovers that allowed Kentucky to get within seven but no closer.
Kentucky: That the Wildcats struggled for good looks against one of the nation’s top defensive teams was no surprise. They didn’t help themselves with ragged play on both ends and were no match for the Gamecocks on the glass. But they didn’t wilt, which could offer hope of breaking from their slump.
“When we weren’t scoring, we gave them some easy scoring opportunities,” coach Kyra Elzy said. “But then when we see that ball go through the net, it gave us some energy. When we had to have possessions, I thought we turned our defense up. That’s what we have to do more consistently across the board.”
South Carolina: Visits No. 17 Georgia on Sunday.
Kentucky: Visits Alabama on Sunday.
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