(17) Kentucky (21-7) at South Carolina (10-18)
03/01/2014 7:56 AM
03/01/2014 8:42 AM
GAME NOTES: Two teams occupying opposite ends of the SEC standings will square off at Colonial Life Arena on Saturday evening, as the South Carolina Gamecocks play host to the 17th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky has been rather impressive on the season, going 21-7 overall and 11-4 in conference action, but it fell on the wrong end of a 71-67 overtime battle at home to Arkansas on Thursday, and the loss for the Wildcats allowed top- ranked Florida to clinch the regular-season SEC crown. The squad likely won't be intimidated heading out on the road in this one, as it has won four in a row away from Lexington.
Meanwhile, South Carolina's season has been a struggle from the very start at 10-18, and at 3-12 in the SEC, it is tied for last place with Mississippi State. The Gamecocks have lost three straight, most recently falling at Auburn on Wednesday night, 83-67, but there's some room for optimism in this matchup, as they have gone a solid 8-6 on their home floor.
Kentucky holds a 47-10 advantage in the all-time series, including a 77-55 triumph in the latest meeting on Feb. 5, 2013.
The Wildcats overcame a double-digit first-half deficit on Thursday to take a four-point lead with 1:13 left, but they lost control down the stretch in regulation before Arkansas sent the game into overtime with a 2-of-2 trip to the foul line with 30 seconds left, and they never held a lead in the extra session. They shot a mere 34.2 percent from the field and were also hindered by a poor 12-of-22 showing at the foul line and 18 turnovers. Willie Cauley- Stein came off the bench to tally 16 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 8- of-12 from the floor. Julius Randle also logged a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, Andrew Harrison netted 14 as well and James Young scored 11.
Kentucky has been successful on both ends of the floor this season, shooting 46.2 percent from the field for 77.8 ppg, while allowing 67.0 ppg on a mere 39.7 percent shooting. It also has one of the nation's best rebounding margins (+9.9), but it has been less than impressive both from 3-point range (.321) and the foul line (.680). Randle has established himself as one of the nation's premiere power forwards during his freshman campaign with 15.7 ppg and 10.3 rpg. Fellow first-year players James Young (14.4 ppg), Aaron Harrison (13.6 ppg) and Andrew Harrison (11.3 ppg, 3.5 apg) have also been impressive, while Cauley-Stein (7.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg) joins Randle in the frontcourt and is a great defender with 84 blocks and 30 steals.
The Gamecocks were never much of a threat in their most recent contest, as they fell behind by 12 at the break to Auburn and never got within single digits of the lead the rest of the way. They shot only 40.4 percent from the field on the evening, while allowing Auburn to make good on 52.1 percent of its tries from the floor, and they were also hindered by a game-high 20 turnovers. Brenton Williams was a bright spot despite the setback, shooting 5- of-9 from 3-point range and 7-of-8 at the foul line on his way to 26 points. Mindaugas Kacinas netted 10 points, while Michael Carrera brought down 13 rebounds.
On the season, South Carolina ranks in the bottom half of the SEC both in terms of scoring offense (69.4 ppg) and scoring defense (71.1 ppg), and its field-goal percentage (.422) is the league's worst. Williams is the top offensive treat with 14.7 ppg thanks mostly to his 77 3-pointers made at a 43.5 percent clip, and at 87-of-91 from the free-throw line (.956), he's the nation's most accurate foul shooter. Sindarius Thornwell is the only other player to average in double figures with 13.5 ppg, although he does so on a mere 38.4 percent field-goal shooting.
Don't expect South Carolina's homecourt advantage to amount to much in this one, especially against a Kentucky squad eager to avenge its loss from earlier in the week.
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