Start time: 6pm
TV: ESPN (Tom Hart, Kara Lawson, Kaylee Hartung)
Live Stream: WatchESPN.com
Radio: 107.5 The Game in Columbia (Derek Scott, Casey Manning)
Live Audio: Gamecock IMG Sports Network
There’s no understating this year’s latest edition of the South Carolina-Kentucky clash for the Gamecocks. Win the game, and they’ll automatically jump squarely into the national conversation. Lose the game, and while their tournament hopes won’t take a huge hit, they’ll still find themselves somewhat overlooked. Either way, this is undoubtedly one of the biggest games in the Frank Martin era of South Carolina basketball when it comes to what’s on the line.
The main focus for the Gamecocks this evening will be capping Malik Monk. The teams that have come close to beating Kentucky (i.e. Mississippi State on Tuesday) have succeeded in holding Monk at bay. The freshman is coming off a 5-14 outing and scored just 14 points as the Wildcats were able to hold off the Bulldogs in an eventual seven-point win, after which the always-quotable and outspoken John Calipari ripped his team for “go(ing) into AAU mode” and remarked that the team was “two months away” from playing to their full potential. It got to the point where Calipari leaned on De’Aaron Fox to step in, and he did, scoring 21 points in the victory.
That’s something the Wildcats have that the Gamecocks don’t really have: depth. If one player (like Monk) is struggling, they can turn to players like Fox, Isaiah Briscoe and Bam Adebayo to pick up the slack. Fox enters as the league’s leader in assists (6.3), while Adebayo’s 7.2 boards per game is fifth in the SEC. The Gamecocks have received a great deal of offense from Sindarius Thornwell, but haven’t really had Chris Silva, PJ Dozier, and Duane Notice clicking at the same time all that much. When that happens - if Silva can avoid foul trouble, Dozier can reestablish himself, and Notice can find his groove - they’ll be a very difficult team to play.
Kentucky is at the top of the league in rebounds (41.4 a night). The Gamecocks’ defense will be tested, as well, as the Wildcats are the top-scoring team in the SEC and third-highest scoring team in the country (93.3). South Carolina has the country’s fifth-best scoring defense at 59.4. If they can shut the Wildcats down on the perimeter, keep the big guys - like Adebayo - from making plays inside, and take Monk out of the picture, they might be able to slow the game into a pace of their liking and ride out of Lexington with a big win.