It’s one thing to be Frank Martin with a young team and low expectations. It’s another to be John Calipari with a young team and the supposed best freshman class in the history of college basketball.
Still nursing the effects of a hangover from their overtime loss at home to Arkansas, No. 17 Kentucky received a second-straight rude awakening, falling in the waning seconds to South Carolina, 72-67. The win abruptly paused the Wildcats seven-game winning streak over the Gamecocks, in which five of the last six wins in the series were decided by 15 or more points.
Had it not been for a 17-for-23 first-half performance at the free-throw line, the deficit would’ve been much larger. The Wildcats shot a dismal 5-0f-28 from the floor, good for an alarmingly low rate of 17.8 percent and trailed 31-28 at the intermission. Their offense went ice cold, as they didn’t convert a field goal the final 7:45 of the half.
The Gamecocks opened the second half with an 14-2 run, pushing the lead to 45-30, as Kentucky didn’t make their first basket of the half until the 14:25 mark. That stretch was indicative of a Wildcats’ offense that suffers from the stall of constant one-on-one activity. Several plays highlighted their ineffectiveness in the halfcourt game, where an actual flow has been virtually non-existent most of the season. Their obvious athleticism and rebounding dominance masks most their offensive inefficiency, pushing them to a 46-28 advantage on the boards today.
Aaron Harrison and James Young scored 21 and 19 points, respectively, but combined to shoot just 8-of-28 from the floor.
Calipari, who was tossed from the game at the 10:25 mark of the second half, seemingly became a master psychologist. Though he wasn’t able to control his team from the floor, his trek to the visiting locker room was possibly the source of his team’s motivation. Longtime assistant John Robic seemed to be a calming influence on the team, as Kentucky managed to fight back and trail 68-67 with :20 seconds remaining.
Brenton Williams (24 points), one of just two seniors on the Gamecocks’ roster, sealed the game with two clutch free throws, continuing his wonderful marksmanship at the line this season. Williams is the leading free-throw shooter in the SEC at 96 percent. He’s also in the middle of playing his best basketball of the season, averaging 23 ppg in his last three games. He knows his team is all but eliminated from making the NCAA tournament unless his Gamecocks go on a Cinderella run two weeks from now in Atlanta during the conference tournament.
Don’t tell him that, though. His basking in the glory of his school’s first win over a ranked opponent since 2001 against Vanderbilt. Tonight’s game was his tournament.