The surging Kentucky Wildcats will look to keep up their rise up the SEC and national landscape when they square off with upstart South Carolina on Saturday.
Entering the game at 18-6 and 8-3 in SEC play, the Cats are coming off a pair of impressive wins over NCAA Tournament contenders in Florida and Georgia. Following last week's devastating loss at Tennessee, UK responded with a 19-point win over Florida and a 34-point win over Georgia. It's easily the best two-game stretch these young Cats have had, and they'll look to continue it in Columbia this weekend.
Carolina is led by fourth-year head coach Frank Martin, who has built the Gamecock program from a bottom-feeding SEC club to now being ranked No. 20 in the USA Today Coaches Top 25 Poll. The Gamecocks just held off Ben Simmons and LSU on Wednesday to jump to the top of the SEC standings with a 94-83 victory over the Tigers.
Junior guard Sindarius Thornwell led Carolina for the second straight game, hitting six shots, and adding 11 points from the charity stripe for a game-high 24. That came after Thornwell notched a season-high 25 points with nine assists and six rebounds in win at No. 8 Texas A&M. The junior is averaging a team-high 3.7 assists per game to go with 13,2 ppg and 5.0 rpg.
SC's other big-hitter is senior forward Michael Carrera, who leads the team in scoring (14.2), rebounding (7.2) and three-point shooting (48.7 percent). Over his last five games, Carrera is averaging 20.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
He's been on a tear recently, highlighted by his 20 points on 6-of-6 shooting in win at Texas A&M. He followed that up with 16 points, 14 of which coming in the second half with six rebounds and two steals in the win vs. LSU.
Speaking of, South Carolina’s win at No. 8 Texas A&M marked its first road win over a top-10 opponent since defeating No. 6 Florida in Gainesville on Feb. 8, 2006. After hitting a season low 31.6 percent from the floor in the loss at Georgia last Tuesday, the Gamecocks responded with their best shooting game in SEC play, hitting 52.6 percent from the floor in the win at Texas A&M.
Junior guard Duane Notice has been another big-time player for the Gamecocks when needed this season. He's averaging 11.1 ppg and just scored 15 while hitting four threes with two steals in the win vs. LSU. Notice has scored in double figures 15 times this season while also hitting a team-high 46 three-pointers on 117 attempts (39.3 percent) this season.
Here is everything you'll need to watch and follow the Cats and the Gamecocks face off.
Kentucky Wildcats (18-6, 8-3 in SEC) at South Carolina Gamecocks (21-3, 8-3 in SEC)
When: Feb. 13, 2016
Game Time: 12 p.m. ET
Location: Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC
Announcers: Tom Hart, Kara Lawson and Kaylee Hartung.
Rosters: USC Roster; UK Roster
Online Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: UK Radio Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt (info and affiliates)
Odds: Kentucky opened as a 1-point favorite, per Vegas Insider.
Projected USC Starters
#15 G - PJ Dozier 6-6, 200, Fr.
#0 G - Sindarius Thornwell ,6-5, 215, Jr.
#25 F - Mindaugas Kacinas, 6-7, 229, Sr. K
#24 F - Michael Carrera, 6-5, 214, Sr.
#30 F - Chris Silva, 6-9, 220, Fr.
Projected UK Starters
#3 G - Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160, So.
#13 G - Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202, Fr.
#23 G - Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207, Fr.
#35 F - Derek Willis, 6-9, 220, Jr.
#00 F - Marcus Lee, 6-9, 224, Jr.
My Prediction: This will be a hard-fought contest that comes right down to the wire with the outright SEC lead on the line. The Gamecocks have been a tough out this year while UK has found it tough to win on the road.
Making matters worse for the Cats is senior forward Alex Poythress probably isn't playing due to a knee procedure. Still, this Kentucky team is better than South Carolina, so long as the Cats can match the Gamecocks' effort and intensity.
The Gamecocks are 21-3 in large part because they've consistently out-played their opponents, something many teams have done at home vs. Kentucky. But these Cats have slowly matured as the season has wore on and are learning how to play winning basketball away from Rupp Arena.
UK takes care of business and holds on for a close win to take control of the SEC heading into the final weeks of the regular season.
Final Score: Kentucky 72, South Carolina 70