South Carolina was missing a lot this afternoon in Lexington, KY. Shooters, drivers, ball-handlers, rebounders. The game was as ugly for South Carolina as their talent level looked empty.
Two things that you don't need talent to possess are effort and fight. It is often disheartening for viewers, coaches, teammates, etc. if athletes perform without those moving characteristics. Frank Martin brought up those qualities at halftime and after the game. "He said he didn't think his team put up a fight," ESPN reporter Kaylee Hartung said at halftime after interviewing Martin. "He said his team didn't win the effort battle against Kentucky."
After the game, Martin's tune didn't change. "Our team didn't put up much of a fight today," Martin said. "You're not going to beat Kentucky with one guy trying and everyone else just waiting for the buzzer to sound." It's one thing to hear Martin say it but sometimes the thoughts of an outside individual can be the most intriguing. Former South Carolina and NBA star Alex English tweeted "I don't see enough fight out there..."
The battle got out of hand early and never returned to even being remotely close. UK got up 6-2 early after six consecutive points by freshman Karl-Anthony Towns. Their lead increased to 12-2 and 18-3 with each UK run prompting a Frank Martin timeout. Aaron Harrison was the fuel to the gigantic early lead the Wildcats created. Up by as much as 27 in the first half, Harrison had all of his 11 points and nine of them came in a span of possessions where he knocked in two three-point plays and a 3-pointer. One can imagine how deflating that sequence can be for a defense.
The Gamecocks entered halftime down 43-18. They went into the lockerroom shooting 21 percent from the field but for most of the first half they were under the 20 percent threshold. A popular formula for an upset is effort, hustle, a 3-point barrage, and some luck. I addressed what happened with the first two parts and the outside shooting part didn't go to plan either. Ten minutes into the first half, South Carolina was 2-of-15 from the field, missing their first six 3-pointers and going into the half shooting 1-of-8 from deep. In the first period, sophomore Duane Notice was 0-of-6 and had zero points. A lot has changed for the young man since his dominant stretch earlier this season.
Kentucky dominated, bullied, and pulverized South Carolina in the paint. Led by Willie Cauley-Stein and flanked by Towns and Darkri Johnson, the Wildcats owned the paint on both ends of the floor. Everything seemed to go their way and the Gamecocks didn't have a chance from the start. It was one of the most complete, efficient, and all-around great performances this Kentucky team has put together all season. Their defense will always be there and it will always be special but to play offense as well and as efficiently as they did today and to be able to blend it with their defense, it was all truly exceptional.
UK shot 50 percent from the field and 35 percent from deep while USC shot 23% from the field and 15% (3-of-20) from deep. South Carolina is one of eleven opponents that Kentucky has held under 30 percent shooting for an entire game this season. Two of the worst shooting performances in the last 15 years for South Carolina have both come this year and both happened against Kentucky (Jan. 24: 22%, Today: 23%). The Gamecocks started 0-of-9 in the second half before Sindarius Thornwell canned a 3-pointer with 13:56 to go. Thornwell had a game-high 20 points with five rebounds and two assists but committed four turnovers in extra ballhandling duties. Starters outside of Sin shot 4-of-25 today. He made more field goals (5) than the rest of the starters combined. Notice finished with six points on 2-of-12 shooting. Michael Carrera and Laimonas Chatkevicius combined for three points and five rebounds, with Chat not contributing to the rebound category and Carrera not contributing to the point category. Tyrone Johnson was completely caught up in UK's defense, going for two points, one assist, and four turnovers.
Frank Martin is now 12-36 in SEC play since he arrived in Columbia and the Gamecocks are now guaranteed a non-winning SEC season for the 21st time in their 24 years in the league.
The Gamecocks (12-12, 3-9) next game is Tuesday night at Georgia. The Bulldogs (16-8, 7-5) lost by one today in Athens to Auburn after two sold wins in a row against Tennessee and Texas A&M. The Gamecocks smacked the 'Dawgs 67-50 on January 31 in Columbia. Georgia is currently on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament and Gamecock fans would like nothing more than to put them on the wrong side of the bubble Tuesday night.