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No. 22 Kentucky Ends Regular Season at No. 7 South Carolina

Vicky Graff Photo

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Fresh off its memorable win Thursday against No. 3 Mississippi State on Senior Night, the No. 22 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team looks to keep its momentum alive as it ends the 2016-17 regular season at No. 7 South Carolina on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET inside Colonial Life Arena.

The game will be broadcast on the ESPNU with John Brickley on play-by-play and Nell Fortner as the analyst. Now in his 12th season, Neil Price will have the call on the UK Sports Network. Fans in Lexington can hear Price’s call of the game on WLAP 630 AM.

Kentucky (20-8, 11-4 Southeastern Conference) is coming off its biggest win of the season Thursday, taking down No. 3 Mississippi State in an overtime thriller 78-75. The win clinched Kentucky’s eighth straight 20-win season, which is a school record, while UK’s 11 conference wins are the most since the 2012-13 team earned 13 victories. Thursday’s victory concluded UK’s 2016-17 home schedule with the Wildcats going 15-3 overall, including 15-2 inside Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats have now won 14 or more home games in five of the last six seasons.

Seniors Evelyn Akhator and Makayla Epps paced Kentucky in the win, giving the Wildcats their eighth straight victory on Senior Night, including two of the last three wins coming against top-five ranked teams. Combined the two seniors scored 49 points, hitting UK’s last 11 field goals and scoring 28 of the final 30 points. Akhator scored 27 points in the game, adding 16 rebounds for her 15th double-double of the season, while Epps had 22 points and five assists, including the game-winning offensive rebound and put-back layup to clinch the UK victory.

Epps leads Kentucky in scoring this season averaging 17.1 points per game while leading the team with 104 assists and sitting third with 28 steals. Akhator is averaging a double-double with 15.3 points and 10.6 rebound per game. Two other Wildcats are averaging double figures with sophomore Taylor Murray averaging 12.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, while fellow sophomore Maci Morris is averaging 11.7 points and has hit a team-best 46 3-pointers this season.

South Carolina enters Sunday’s regular-season finale with a 23-4 record, including a 13-2 mark in conference play. The Gamecocks are 12-1 overall this season inside Colonial Life Arena, including 6-1 in conference games at home. South Carolina has played three of its last four games away from home against some of the best teams in the country. The stretch started at No. 1 UConn, falling 66-55, before returning home and earning a 82-51 win over Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks lost their second conference game of the season last Sunday at Missouri, 62-60, before earning a win in their final regular-season road game at Texas A&M, 80-64.

As a team, South Carolina is averaging 75.9 points per game, limiting opponents to just 55.7 points per game. The Gamecocks are hitting 46.2 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from 3, while opponents hit just 35.1 percent from the field against the Gamecocks. South Carolina has a +7.8 rebounding margin this season and are averaging 15.1 assists per game.

Junior forward A’ja Wilson paces the Gamecocks with 17.1 points per game, adding 7.5 rebounds and a team-best 56 blocks, while senior center Alaina Coates is averaging 13.4 points and a team-best 11.2 rebounds per game. Coates is second on the team with 38 blocks. Two other South Carolina players are averaging double figures with junior guard Allisha Gray posting 12.8 points and junior guard Kaela Davis earning 11.4 points.

Sunday’s meeting with South Carolina is the 60th all-time in program history with the Wildcats leading the all-time series 33-26. South Carolina leads the series in games played in Columbia, 16-10 and has won the last four meetings in Colonial Life Arena. Kentucky’s last win at South Carolina came on Jan. 15, 2012 when it took down the Gamecocks 66-58.

UK’s last win against South Carolina came March 1, 2015 in Memorial. The Gamecocks have currently won four straight in the series, which ties its longest winning streak in the series. Matthew Mitchell is 10-11 all-time as a head coach against South Carolina.

Kentucky and South Carolina met earlier this season in Lexington with the Gamecocks posting a 75-63 victory over the Wildcats. USC used a 22-8 advantage in the second quarter to earn the win, although the Wildcats outscored the Gamecocks 40-33 in the second half. South Carolina shot 50 percent from the field in the game, including 7-of-19 from 3, while the Wildcats shot 33.9 percent and 6-of-19 from 3. USC outrebounded UK 40-29 and won the battle in the paint 34-20. Epps paced Kentucky with a game-high 23 points, adding nine rebounds, while Morris had 14 points and Alyssa Rice had 10 points. Wilson scored 20 points with nine rebounds, while Coates had 20 points and 18 rebounds.

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