The Gamecocks picked up a season-defining victory against the Kentucky Wildcats last night, winning 68-62. How did we do it, and what does this mean for our season and program? Let's take a closer look.
How We Won
- I thought the recipe for an upset over the 'Cats would be a lights-out shooting performance from our guards. My thinking was that Kentucky would significantly outscore us on breaks and down low and that we would have to compensate with lots of threes. I was wrong. We didn't shoot well in this game, going 34% from the field and 25% from downtown. We still won, though, because our big guys offset Kentucky's talent and size advantage in the post with scrappy, inspired play. We out-rebounded Kentucky 40(16) to 38(13), with many of the offensive boards resulting in put-backs. We also staged Block Party Part Deux, garnering a total of eight blocks. The unlikely heroes in all of this were Sam Muldrow, Jhondre Jefferson, and Austin Steed. A particularly pleasant surprise were the quality minutes we got from Jefferson, who had generally been a non-factor over the last few weeks. Jefferson isn't one of the conference's elite big men and perhaps never will be, but he proved tonight that he is a reliable option, particularly on defense and the boards.
- Devan Downey still scored nearly 50% of our points, but we did find an additional scoring option in Brandis Raley-Ross, who put in 17, including some key free throws down the stretch. We need to see Raley-Ross and others continue to step up their games on the offensive end.
- Sorry, Evka, but I liked the minutes for Stephen Spinella. Horn finally appears to be coming around to this guy. He made a mistake late in the game but overall played some decent basketball.
- There's not much else you can say about Downey. The leadership, incredible defense, and jaw-dropping shots down the stretch were just phenomenal. After last night, Downey is finally a figure on the national stage that has eluded him. He deserves it. I think he's one of the, if not the, most valuable player in college basketball. If you go take a look at the comments threads at A Sea of Blue, you'll also learn that he's one of the most hated and feared players in the Bluegrass State.
- Not to take anything away from our guys, but it's worth noting that, as with most huge upsets, we got some help from the favorite. Kentucky missed a number of layups, committed some ugly turnovers, and generally didn't look themselves for most of the game. This is all to say that when we head to Rupp later in the season, we'll need that inspired shooting in addition to the scrappy play, as the 'Cats will probably force us to work much harder if we want another win.
More after the jump.
What It Means for Our Season and Program
- I still believe our chances of making the Big Dance are slim. However, make no mistake: they are now significantly more likely than they were before. Before this game, I thought we had to win all winnable games and probably do some work in the SECT to get a berth. Doing all of that is unlikely, of course. However, this Kentucky game was not one of those "winnable games," so we now have a bit more breathing room. Moreover, this is the kind of marquee win that could offset our lack of good OOC wins in the selection committee's eyes. I still think our chances are unlikely because we most likely face probable losses at UK, UT, and VU and another couple of losses in the rest of the more winnable games. That many losses will probably keep us out, as our margin for error is still pretty slim. However, this win does give us a glimmer of hope that we can, when we play our best, beat anyone. Going on a seemingly unlikely tear doesn't seem so unlikely anymore. It all starts on Saturday night, when the Gamecocks host a much-improved Georgia Bulldogs. This is a must-win game in terms of our tournament chances, so we can't afford to have a letdown. In our favor is the fact that we get an extra day off, as the Dawgs travel to Gainesville tonight to take on the Gators.
- This win put our program on the map. We're on the front page of ESPN.com and the WWL's personalities are talking and writing features about us. College basketball fans from all over the country are tuned in. Everyone is talking about our passionate fans and the electric atmostphere at the CLA. And, most importantly, recruits are watching. Darrin Horn has already proven that he can recruit top talent to USC, and wins like this are the sort of thing will help him take us to the next level in that arena.
That's a wrap on this one. I think the best way to sum up my feelings about this game would be to say that while I'm still having trouble believing that we actually pulled this one off, at the same time I'm beginning to believe that under Darrin Horn maybe we're not going to be the so-close-yet-so-far team that we always have been. Go 'Cocks.