When South Carolina (14-13, 5-8) traveled to Lexington, Ky to take on the Wildcats, everyone had predicted a blowout, a revenge beat down for the lone loss on the Kentucky (27-1, 12-1) record. While the 82-61 victory by John Calipari's team would appear to be a blowout, it was anything but that. Fans don't like to talk about morale victories and this was not one, but the USC Basketball Team played extremely hard and competed with the team most believe will win the national championship. A team with an estimated 4-5 future NBA players.
After jumping out to a 11-2 lead in the first two and a half minutes, Kentucky and its' fans could smell an embarrassing route of the visiting team. But a nice 7-2 run over the next two minutes narrowed the lead to 13-9 and the scrappy competitive game was on. For the rest of the game, Kentucky, led by John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson could not gain more than an 8 point lead for the next ten minutes. In the final five minutes of the half, the Wildcat size and strength began to take over. With Kentucky shooting poorly from the outside (3-11 from 3-Pt range) they began to pound the glass and penetrate to grind points in closing out the first half. After establishing a 14 point lead at the 1:31 mark, no one could score until SEC scoring leader Devan Downey scored his 9th point on a long 30-foot shot to end the first half with Kentucky leading 37-26. In the second half Devan would add 17 more points shooting 9-25 and 3-9 from the arc.
The tenacity and competitive spirit of USC Head Coach Darrin Horn and Downey would display itself again in the second half, when Kentucky jumped out to a 16 point lead just under two minutes into the half. But over the next nine minutes the Gamecocks would get as close as 6 points before the size, speed and talent of Kentucky would take advantage in the post and in transition, and with 9:18 to go USC would watch its efforts become overshadowed by the gradual growth of a small double digit lead between 10-15 points over that period. With just under three minutes and the score 69-59 Kentucky, Patterson, who finished with a team high 23 points, to go with his 8 rebounds, grabbed an offensive rebound and dunked to start the run for the final margin of victory.
USC has a few positives to take from this loss, forcing John Wall into 6 turnovers, Wall was held to 12 points on 4-15 shooting, scoring on 10 assisted plays, after averaging less than 10 assists during SEC play and holding Kentucky to only 10 fast break points. Overall, the Gamecocks did not back down, nor did they allow various runs during most of the game to discourage their level of effort against a superior ball club. Concerns will obviously be noted in the post scoring where Kentucky scored 56 of its' total 82 points in the paint. South Carolina was able to generate 30 of its' 61 points in the paint on penetration and passing, along with stick backs from offensive rebounds. The Wildcats had a decisive advantage at the free throw line due to post play, going 15-20 from the line and the Gamecocks were 5-7, with Downey going 5-5 from the charity stripe. No bench scoring for the Gamecocks was obviously disappointing to Coach Horn.
Lakeem Jackson took two ill-advised shots from the perimeter, but otherwise was near perfect scoring aggressively on 8-11 shooting for 16 points (4 rebs, 3 stls, 2 asts & 1 blk), while Sam Muldrow was effective earlier in the game and finished with 10 points (5-11), 8 rebounds and 3 blocks.
It is now South Carolina's turn to attempt a home court beat down, returning home to play Mississippi State at the Colonial Life Arena, where the Gamecocks have played their best basketball all year, winning 11 of its total 14 victories in this arena.