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Preview: South Carolina is rolling, while Kentucky is at a crossroads

While South Carolina has picked up steam after a slow start, Kentucky needs a a big win to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Kentucky vs Mississippi State
Kentucky’s leading scorer Maci Morris will try to lead the Wildcats to a signature win over South Carolina to keep their season alive.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight’s SEC matchup features two teams headed in opposite directions.

The No. 16 South Carolina Gamecocks have won 10 of their last 11, while the No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats have gone 3-3 in their last six games after a 14-1 start. The Wildcats are 4-3 in conference play, sitting sixth in the SEC, while the Gamecocks are in second with their lone conference loss coming at the hands of Mississippi State.

South Carolina is coming off of an 80-69 victory over Vanderbilt on Monday, in which the team made a season-high 34 field goals on 68 attempts. Four of five starters scored in double figures in the win.

Meanwhile, Kentucky lost a tough road game against Texas A&M on Sunday, 73-71. With her team trailing 72-69, Wildcats freshman Rhyne Howard had a chance to shoot free throws after being fouled on a three-point shot attempt. She made two of three, and the Aggies held on for the win. Kentucky’s night at the line is what held them back, shooting 10-for-15 as a team and an uncharacteristic 3-for-7 from senior Taylor Murray, who is an 84 percent free throw shooter.

The Wildcats have not beaten the Gamecocks since March 1, 2015, in a 67-56 upset of then-No. 2 South Carolina. Since then, the Wildcats have faced off with the Gamecocks eight times, including two SEC Tournament games, and lost by an average of 16 points apiece.

Senior Maci Morris and freshman Rhyne Howard for Kentucky rank eighth and ninth respectively in the SEC in scoring, averaging 16.6 and 16.5 points per game. The Kentucky defense is sixth in the nation in terms of forcing turnovers, averaging 22.1 forced turnovers per game.

South Carolina’s offense has been on a roll all year, failing to surpass 70 points just seven times and scoring over 70 points in each of their last five games. Besides that, the Gamecocks have failed just once in their last five games to have four players reach at least 10 points. While they are within reach of a regular-season SEC championship, they may need to win out to have a shot.

Kentucky wants to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017, and to do so, they will need strong regular-season performance. A win tonight puts the Wildcats back on track.

Game information

No. 16 South Carolina Gamecocks (14-5, 6-1) at No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats (17-4, 4-3)

When: Thursday, Jan. 31, at 6:30 p.m. ET

Where: Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, KY

How to watch: SEC Network