COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Freshmen Brea Beal and Zia Cooke had 15 points each and No. 4 South Carolina quickly eliminated any thoughts of an upset Thursday, dispatching No. 13 Kentucky 99-72 to start Southeastern Conference play.
The Gamecocks (13-1, 1-0 SEC) opened a 12-point lead in the first quarter and stretched it to 21 by halftime. Constantly carving through Kentucky’s overmatched defense, South Carolina had nine players score by halftime and the Gamecocks’ defense had forced 11 turnovers, seven of them steals.
The Wildcats (11-2, 0-1) got 28 points from star guard Rhyne Howard. But South Carolina also forced her to commit six turnovers.
Kentucky kept things close early with its offensive rebounding but became flustered by the Gamecocks’ relentless pace and tenacity on the defensive end.
Two more South Carolina freshmen — the Gamecocks had the country's top-ranked recruiting class entering the season — scored in double digits as Aliyah Boston and Laeticia Amihere had 14 points apiece.
South Carolina finished with six players in double figures.
Chasity Patterson added 15 points for the Wildcats.
Kentucky: As good as Howard is, Kentucky needs some help around her. The Wildcats struggled to run against the Gamecocks and had no answer after their offensive rebounding slowed.
South Carolina: There was no rust from a long holiday break and the Gamecocks’ three starting freshmen led the first-half surge. South Carolina's game plan was nearly flawlessly performed and it finished shooting 61% from the field (36 of 59).
Kentucky hosts No. 22 Tennessee in its home conference opener. Coach Matthew Mitchell began his college career as a graduate assistant under the legendary Pat Summitt at Tennessee in 2000.
South Carolina tips off at Alabama on Sunday. The Gamecocks have won 15 straight against the Crimson Tide in a streak that began in 2009.
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