Today, the South Carolina Gamecocks invade Rupp Arena for a tilt against the Kentucky Wildcats. This is the revenge game for the Gamecocks after their loss at the hands of the 'Cats back on January 22nd in Columbia. Darren Horn, who is originally from Lexington, has gone 3-6 against the Big Blue in his four-year tenure at USC. South Carolina as a program is 10-43 against Kentucky all time.
Here are the SEC standings and season statistics so far:
|SEC standings:||W-L Splits:||Kentucky||South Carolina|
|10||South Carolina||13-11||4-7||RPI 101-150||4-0||1.0||1-1||0.5|
South Carolina is coming off four straight losses, the most recent being on Wednesday to the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville. After a promising start, the gamecocks have lost a series of relatively close games, both at home and on the road, to the better teams in the SEC East.
Kentucky is coming off a closer-than-it-should-have-been victory against the Mississippi St. Bulldogs in Rupp Arena on Tuesday. John Calipari and his charges will be looking to complete the season sweep of the Gamecocks this afternoon, and return to form after dropping 3 of their last six games, all on the road.
South Carolina Gamecocks Basketball Roster
|Malik Cooke||15||F||Major reserve, 2nd leading rebounder, leading OR, steals leader
|Bruce Ellington||23||G||Starter, leading scorer, 33% 3-pt, assist leader
|Ramon Galloway||12||G||Major reserve, 2nd leading scorer, good 3-pt shooter
|Murphy Holloway||31||F||Transfer from Ole Miss, year in residence||234||6-7||sophomore|
|Lakeem Jackson||30||F||Starter, questionable today
|Sam Muldrow||44||F||Starter, leading rebounder, 3.5 blocks/game
|RJ Slawson||33||F||Minor reserve||196||6-8||freshman|
|Eric Smith||5||G||Major reserve||211||5-11||freshman|
Freshman star Bruce Ellington has come back to earth a bit after a hot start. Last time the Wildcats took on the Gamecocks, Ellington was shooting over 40% from the arc. That has cooled off a bit, but he is still a very dangerous player and one of the outstanding freshmen in the league.
In the last game against Kentucky, senior forward Sam Muldrow delivered a virtuoso performance against the 'Cats in a losing cause, scoring 23 points on 58% shooting, 13 rebounds with 5 of them offensive, and 3 blocks. Muldrow simply dominated Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson in that contest.
- Bruce Ellington - Probable for this game, recovering from a calf injury.
- Stephen Spinella - Questionable today due to illness.
- Lakeem Jackson - Foot injury, doubtful today.
Kentucky has no known injuries. Apparently, Darius Miller has recovered from his groin problem.
Four Factors Analysis
The only one of the four factors that Kentucky does not lead is offensive rebounding, which goes narrowly to the Gamecocks. Kentucky has significant advantages in all the other four factors.
This is a game that Kentucky simply must win if they are to have a chance to get a top 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks match up well against Kentucky, but their relative youth is less talented than that of the Wildcats, and that turned out to be a problem for them in the first meeting.
In Columbia, Kentucky played one of their best defensive games of the year against everyone but Sam Muldrow. DeAndre Liggins completely shut down Bruce Ellington in the last meeting, and it is fairly likely that he will be on him again for much of the game to try to force the rest of the somewhat scoring-challenged Gamecocks to beat them. South Carolina is 10th in the league in effective FG%, and is allowing 1.03 points/possession on defense. 3-point shooting has also abandoned them, as they are averaging only 29% from the arc during league games.
In their best games this year, the Gamecocks shoot well from three and get the ball to Muldrow near the basket, where he is difficult to stop. The Gamecocks have not been able to prevent SEC teams from scoring a lot on them lately, and have only been getting to the line 28% of the time in the league. That makes scoring much more difficult, and on top of that, South Carolina has only been making around 66% of their free throw attempts.
For Kentucky today, the most important single thing seems to be to defend well. Defense has been the cornerstone to this team's success, and when they defend with passion and precision, the 'Cats almost always win the game. Offense has never been much of a problem for this group, and I don't expect this game will be any different. What has been a problem is opponents suddenly throwing in a bunch of 3-point shots and putting a fear of losing into Calipari's young team. Kentucky is, perhaps unsurprisingly since they are so young, fragile under duress, which makes it all the more important that they focus on stout defense and get off to a good start.
If Kentucky brings their best today, they should win. South Carolina is capable of pulling the upset, though, and is arguably due for a good game. As we saw versus Mississippi St., teams that are due can often get hot. The big difference is, Darrin Horn is a significantly better coach, at least this year, than Rick Stansbury, and his team is far more disciplined, if not quite as talented.