Your #10 UK Wildcats are on the road this weekend, taking their game against the biggest and baddest team in the conference and the land. The last time the Cats tangled with a ranked team on the road they were soundly spanked by Duke. South Carolina is going to be a whole other level of battle for our Cats, so let's look at our opposition and see what the keys to victory may be.
To start, South Carolina has a significant height advantage with 8 players topping six feet compared to Kentucky's four. This includes three of their starters and 2 of their best players off the bench.
South Carolina is also a very good shooting team, second in overall field goal percentage only to UConn. Kentucky is not ranked in the top 50. Overall the Gamecocks have the 10th best scoring offense in the country, while Kentucky ranks 19th. They beat us in every offensive component, from field shooting, to three pointers, to free throws. They also move the ball very well, averaging 19.8 assists per game to Kentucky's 12.3
The Gamecocks are also good at defense: they average 6 blocked shots a game (9th in the country), and 27.5 defensive rebounds per game to our 24.1. The lone bright spot I found in extensive stat studying: we are sneakier, averaging 10.6 steals per game to their 10.2
Depressed? Don't be. This game will be tough, and I'm not at all confident we'll walk out with the victory but there are things we can do to get the W:
- Smart ball handling with minimal turnovers: Kentucky is 10th in the country in maximizing turnovers against the competition - yes, better than USC - and if we can control the pace of the game with effective ball movement this is a factor in our favor.
- Play tight defense while minimizing fouls. No dumb reach-ins ladies!
- Maximize second chance points - yes, I know we haven't seen this much lately, but we're actually pretty good at this: averaging 17.9 to South Carolina's 14.7. Granted that could be due to the fact they're hitting more of their shots and don't need the second chance, but if we grab every one possible? I think we can level the field here.
- Hit our free throws. 63% on the season is awful, but in 2 of our last 3 games we've hit under 60%. (50% against Alabama and 56% against Auburn.) I hate calling players out, but Linnae and Azia are a big part of our struggles here as neither shoots freebies above 42%. (Azia's moved up from 25% to 33%, so progress here is possible!)
I cannot stress how much more confident I'd feel if the Cats has Bria Goss on their roster when the hit the floor, but that's not happening without some sort of medical miracle. We'll be looking for ALL of our Wildcats to buy into their roles and play the games of their lives if we want this, but I think Mitchell will have them ready. After all, we beat Louisville on the road and they're currently ranked at #6.
Whatever the outcome, this is a critical early conference test for UK Hoops. They need our support and ASoB will be here to cheer them on! Join us tomorrow for all the SEC insanity - game time is 1 PM EST on ESPN2.
Until tipoff, Cat fans - GO BIG BLUE!