UK Hoops Advances To SEC Tournament Final

Reported by: Keenan Singleton
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Updated: 3/08 10:12 pm

DULUTH, Ga. (AP) - Kentucky's big edge in SEC tournament semifinals experience won out over South Carolina's regular-season title.

Bria Goss scored 14 points and No. 12 Kentucky upset No. 5 South Carolina 68-58 Saturday to advance to the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game.

DeNesha Stallworth and Linnae Harper each had 12 points for Kentucky (24-7), which will play Sunday in its fourth SEC tournament final in the last five years. The Wildcats, who won their only title in 1982, will play the winner of the Tennessee-Texas A&M game.

South Carolina, playing in only its second semifinal, never made a serious comeback bid, pulling no closer than eight points in the second half.

"We wanted it," Stallworth said. "I mean, at the end of the day we just wanted to win. We knew that we couldn't, you know, have them come close. We tried to answer back and play incredible defense even if they scored. ... Stay in attack mode. They couldn't stop us when we were in full force."

Kentucky lost to Texas A&M in last year's final and lost to Tennessee in the 2010 and 2011 finals.

Now the Wildcats have another chance to win that elusive championship.

"I'm really, really happy about today," said Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell. "But I do want to stay focused on what we came down here to do, and that's to win the championship.

"I would really be happy for them if they can prepare and finish the job tomorrow."

South Carolina (27-4), the SEC regular-season champion, struggled early. The Gamecocks committed 16 turnovers, most coming in the first 10 minutes.

The Gamecocks' only previous semifinal appearance came in 2012.

"Obviously, we're disappointed in losing the basketball game, but more disappointed in how we played," said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley. "This is the first I've seen our team play this poorly all season long. Obviously, the first half was one that we couldn't recover from."

Kentucky had only five turnovers.

"We probably had more poise and patience today than I've seen in a long time," Mitchell said.

The Gamecocks scored the game's first points on a basket by Elem Ibiam, who finished with 16 points. Kentucky scored the next 12 points and never lost the lead.

South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell, selected by coaches as the SEC player of the year, had 11 points while making only 4 of 12 shots.

Kentucky took its second straight SEC tournament win over a team that swept the Wildcats in the regular season. Kentucky beat Florida in the quarterfinals.

The Gamecocks battled turnovers and cold shooting during Kentucky's early 12-0 run.

Ibiam, the 6-foot-4 center, ended South Carolina's 7-minute scoring drought with an inside basket, but the Gamecocks' struggles kept coming. When Epps scored to give Kentucky a 19-11 lead, South Carolina's 11 turnovers matched its points.

"We agonized through all of them," Staley said.

Bria Goss sank back-to-back 3-pointers to give Kentucky its big lead of the half at 33-20. Ibiam had 12 points in the half, including South Carolina's last three baskets before the break, to trail 37-29.

Kentucky again stretched its lead to 13 points in the second half. South Carolina never made a serious surge, pulling no closer than eight points in the final 20 minutes.

Trailing by 12 points, Staley pulled her starters with 1:16 remaining.

South Carolina may have lost its chance to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

"At this point I have no idea," Staley said. "It's hard for me to project that sitting here and not being able to accomplish one of the goals of winning the SEC tournament championship.

"It really is out of our control at this point. We had control of it, if we were to keep winning. At this point, I can't even elaborate on it."

Aleighsa Welch had 12 points for South Carolina, and Makayla Epps added 10 points for Kentucky.

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