Sole possession of first place in the SEC East is all that's at stake tonight in Columbia, South Carolina. With LSU defeating the Florida Gators 81-75 in a terrific game in Baton Rouge last night, UK and South Carolina (19-6, 8-4) find themselves tied at 8-4 in SEC play. And with only three conference regular season games remaining for each squad after tonight's 7:00 EST tilt, the winner will find themselves squarely in the catbird's seat.
It's only been a little over three weeks since UK lost 78-77 to Darrin Horn's team on a fade-away 12-foot jumper by electrifying Gamecock guard Devan Downey. In my post-game thoughts,"It's a 40 Minute Game," I thoroughly dissected what I saw as a six minute lapse of focus by UK. Other than those fateful few minutes of sub-par play, Kentucky (19-8, 8-4) played very well. Of course that game was in Rupp Arena; tonight, one can be sure Colonial Life Arena will not be nearly as friendly as the 'Cats legendary lair.
Here's a quick look at the unseemly statistics from the earlier UK vs. South Carolina game, played on January 31 (For a complete boxscore go here).
FG FG% FT 3-pt Reb. Off. Reb. Ast. Stl. TO Blk.
UK -- 25-48 52.1 24-29 3-8 40 9 16 5 21 8
S.C. -- 32-76 42.1 7-15 7-20 35 18 7 9 10 2
* -- South Carolina beat UK in points off turnovers 14-8, and in second chance points 11-5. That's minus 12 points in those two critical categories for Big Blue. Actually, the discrepancy in points could have been much, much worse, but the Gamecocks were not very efficient in converting their offensive rebounds, or UK's turnovers, into points.
South Carolina Personnel
Devan Downey: 5'9" 175 lb junior point guard -- On the year Downey averages 20.0 points (3rd in the SEC), 4.3 assists (4th in the SEC) and 3.6 turnovers (13th in A/TO Ratio in the SEC - 1.21). He averages 3.0 steals (1st in the SEC), and 2.8 rebounds per game. He makes 45.4% of his field goal attempts (11th in the SEC), 37.6% of his three-point tries (44-117), and 73.1% of his free throws (10th in the SEC).
In conference play Downey averages 19.5 points, 4.2 assists (4.1 turnovers), 2.9 steals, and 2.8 rebounds per game. He's making 39.8% of his shots, 35.9% of his three-point attempts (28-78), and 66.7% of his free throws -- In the first contest Downey scored 23 points on 10-21 shooting (3-5 threes), dished out four assists, had four steals and three turnovers. He played 35 minutes.
Zam Fredrick: 6'0" 203 lb senior guard -- For the year Fredrick averages 15.3 points (10th in the SEC), 2.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game (2.6 turnovers per game). He makes 39.5% of his shots, 36.2% of his trey attempts (46-127), and 66.1% of his free throws.
In SEC play Fredrick averages 15.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game (2.7 turnovers per game). He's shooting 39.0% from the field, 37.5% from behind the arc (24-64), and 62.1% from the charity stripe -- In the earlier contest Fredrick led the Gamecocks with 24 points on 9-20 shooting (4-8 threes). He also had one assist and two turnovers. He played 36 minutes.
Dominique Archie: 6'7" 200 lb junior forward -- Archie on the year averages 11.5 points, 6.7 rebounds (2.7 off. rebounds - 9th in the SEC), 1.4 steals (2.0 turnovers), and 1.0 block per game. He shoots 52.7% from the field, 34.6% from the three-point line (18-52), and 62.0% from the free throw line.
In league play Archie averages 12.3 points, 6.8 rebounds (3.1 off. rebounds), and 2.4 turnovers per game (his conference steals and blocks are negligible). He shoots 52.5% from the field, 36.7% from the three-point line (11-30), and 61.2% from the free throw line -- In the earlier game, Archie scored seven points on 3-9 shooting (0-3 threes), grabbed three rebounds, had one steal, and four turnovers. He played 24 minutes.
Mike Holmes: 6'7" 220 sophomore F/C -- Overall, Holmes averages 11.2 points, and 7.8 rebounds per game (6th in the SEC). He also averages 3.0 offensive rebounds (6th in the SEC), and 1.2 blocks per game (10th in the SEC). He's shooting 48.1% from the field, and 46.2% from the free throw line.
In SEC play he averages 9.7 points, 6.8 rebounds (2.0 off. rebounds), and 1.6 steals per game. Holmes shoots 47.4% from the field, and 44.4% from the free throw line (24-54) -- In the first game he made 6-8 shots for 15 points, and 8 rebounds (3 off. rebounds). He played 32 minutes.
Evaldas Baniulis: 6'7" 210 lb junior forward -- On the year Baniulis averages 7.0 points, and 2.8 rebounds per game. The Lithuanian shoots 50.4% from the field, 50.6% from beyond the arc (42-83), and 65.2% from the charity stripe.
In league play he averages 5.4 points, and 2.4 rebounds per game. Baniulis shoots 40.8% from the field, 44.7% from the three-point line (17-38), and 66.7% from the free throw line -- In the earlier game Baniulis did not score (0-1 field goals), and had one rebound. He played only eight minutes.
Brandis Raley-Ross: 6'2" 193 lb junior guard -- For the season Raley-Ross averages 6.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game (1.5 turnovers). He makes 41.1% of his shots, 27.1% of his threes, and 70.6% of his free throws.
In conference play he averages 5.9 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game (1.6 turnovers). He's shooting 39.1% from the field, 23.5% from beyond the arc (8-34), and 68.4% from the charity stripe -- In the first game Raley-Ross scored one point on 0-6 shooting (0-3 threes), nabbed one rebound, dished out two assists and had two steals. He played 26 minutes.
Sam Muldrow: 6'9" 216 lb sophomore forward -- On the year Muldrow is averaging 6.3 points, 5.3 rebounds (2.7 off. rebounds), and 1.4 blocks per game. He's shooting 60.4% from the field, and 50.0% from the free throw line (18-36).
Muldrow's above numbers are his season, and SEC stats (he did not play in any pre-conference games) -- In the earlier contest against UK, Muldrow went 3-9 from the field for six points, grabbed 12 big boards (8 off. rebounds), and blocked one shot. He played 26 minutes.
Austin Steed: 6'8" 215 lb sophomore forward -- For the year Steed is averaging 4.1 points, and 3.9 rebounds per game (1.7 off. rebounds). He shoots 46.8% from the floor, and 68.2% from the free throw line.
In SEC play Steed averages 3.0 points, and 3.8 rebounds per game (1.8 off. rebounds). He's making 44.4% of his shot attempts, and 80.0% of his free throws -- In the first tilt Steed scored two points on 1-2 shooting, grabbed three rebounds (two off. rebounds), had one steal and one block. He played 13 minutes.
South Carolina Team Statistics - Season (SEC rank in parenthesis)
South Carolina Opponents
Points per game -- 79.8 (1) 70.6 (10)
Field Goal% -- 45.8 (4) 43.3 (9)
3-Point% -- 38.1 (1) 32.0 (3)
Free Throw% -- 63.2 (10) 72.5 (12)
Rebound Margin -- -1.0 pg (12)
Off. Reb. Per Game -- 13.5 (4) 12.9 (9)
Off. Rebound% -- 35.5 (5) 36.0 (12)
Def. Reb. Per Game -- 22.9 (12) 24.6 (10)
Def. Rebound% -- 64.0 (12) 64.5 (5)
Assists Per Game -- 11.3 (11) 12.6 (6)
Turnovers Per Game -- 14.1 (7) 19.7 (1)
Blocks Per Game -- 4.4 (5) 4.4 (10)
On the season South Carolina averages 75.1 possessions per game (6th in the SEC).
South Carolina Team Statistics - Conference Play (SEC rank in parenthesis)
South Carolina Opponents
Points Per Game -- 77.5 (3) 75.6 (10)
Field Goal% -- 43.7 (7) 46.2 (12)
3-Point% -- 36.1 (4) 31.8 (6)
Free Throw% -- 59.1 (11) 72.1 (12)
Rebound Margin -- -5.3 pg (12)
Off. Reb. Per Game -- 13.3 (3) 13.0 (9)
Off. Rebound% -- 32.8 (9) 37.5 (12)
Def. Reb. Per Game -- 21.7 (11) 27.3 (11)
Def. Rebound% -- 62.5 (12) 67.2 (9)
Assists Per Game -- 9.7 (12) 13.8 (8)
Turnovers Per Game -- 14.4 (6) 19.5 (1)
Blocks Per Game -- 4.2 (5) 4.8 (9)
In league play South Carolina averages 76.2 possessions per game (1st in the SEC).
Defensively, controlling South Carolina point guard Devan Downey will be the key to success for the 'Cats. DeAndre Liggins and Ramon Harris did a credible job of diminishing Downey's impact in the first half of the earlier contest, so it would not be surprising to see a similar defensive rotation tonight.
UK simply has to do a better job of keeping the Gamecocks off of their offensive glass. UK's big men will need to put their collective be-hinds into the mid-sections of the South Carolina board crashers, and not give up position by trying to block every shot within the paint. The Gamecocks took 28 more shots than UK in the January contest, in part due to SC's 18 offensive rebounds (a 40.9% offensive rebound conversion rate for a team that averages 32.8% in SEC play).
Offensively, UK needs to make hay in the paint. In the earlier game Patrick Patterson was 10-16 from the field and scored 28 points (his best game with the bandaged finger). Perry Stevenson was 4-5 and scored eight points. That's a combined 14-21 and 36 points for UK's primary big men.
Duplicating that effort on the road, though, may be tough. Holmes, Archie, and Steed had a difficult time controlling UK's big men so I look for ball-denial into the paint, and double and triple teams for Patterson. Making SC pay for helping-off on Patterson means that the big fella should be able to find open teammates, either on the perimeter, or with ball reversal.
Jodie Meeks will face the same dilemma he's encountered since his 54 point outburst earlier in the year -- A chaser who knows what he had for lunch. To counter that strategy, I really don't look for Billy Gillispie to do anything different than what he's done over the last several games: Run Meeks all over the floor in search of an open look, and hope when he gets the ball, he'll either be open for the split second that he needs, or find an uncovered teammate.
As always, it is so much easier to get Meeks open looks off the fast-break. But first Kentucky must get stops and steals. If UK can smother the Gamecocks with their defense (which they are capable of), it will be a long night for Hootie and his Blowfish.
Versus Tennessee Saturday, UK's "role players" performed exceptionally well. They played unafraid, and made shots at an exceedingly high rate (24-33 = 72.7%). That effort needs to become a trend, and not a one-night stand, if Kentucky expects to win tonight.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!