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February 4, 2012

Wildcats crush Gamecocks



It was simple, really. South Carolina's best inside presence was on the bench with foul trouble, and Kentucky had height and power in the form of Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones.

With no one to stop them, they did what they were supposed to do.

The Wildcats' twin towers took advantage of three first-half fouls on Damontre Harris to lead an 86-52 whitewash of the Gamecocks on Saturday, holding clinics on each side of the ball as USC meekly left Colonial Life Arena by halftime. The game turned into a preview of what could be next year's NBA Slam-Dunk contest, the two combining for 10 jams, as the Gamecocks were quickly and efficiently gutted.

Point guard Marquis Teague pounded the ball inside to the two to give the Wildcats (23-1, 9-0 SEC) a hefty lead and USC, offensively challenged against teams it can defend, couldn't hope to answer. The Gamecocks haven't been able to shoot consistently all season, and they couldn't go inside because of Davis, a shot-blocking magician; and couldn't throw it in from outside.

It got so bad late in the second half that Malik Cooke drove into the lane, saw Davis waiting, slammed on the brakes and threw outside. Davis offered a grim smile, his fearsome unibrow completing the scowl, that sent a message to the sizable Colonial Life Arena crowd, at least half of which was clad in blue.

The message was, "Don't try." The Gamecocks (9-13, 1-7) listened.

"It's really pretty simple," coach Darrin Horn said after absorbing the worst loss of his head-coaching career. "They played like the No. 1 team in the country and we didn't play well."

Horn had every reason to feel frustrated. While the odds of winning the game were slimmer than John Calipari playing the nice guy and forfeiting, he figured USC would at least somewhat mimic its effort of the last three games - keeping it close, perhaps be within a possession or two of the lead with five minutes to play.

There was no way that was going to happen, after Harris, USC's best inside presence, sat down at 15:21 of the first half with his second foul. Kentucky immediately hit three straight alley-oop dunks as redshirt freshman Carlton Geathers tried to hang inside with future millionaires, forcing Horn to gamble and re-insert Harris.

The move paid off when Harris cleaned a Bruce Ellington miss and cut the deficit to 23-12. The Gamecocks got within eight points when Damien Leonard, the surprising leading scorer with 19, stroked a 3-pointer.

But the Wildcats then wisely went right at Harris, who stood his ground as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist drove the lane. Harris didn't stand, take the hit and flop; he didn't turn his hips and let the score happen. He leaped to block, Kidd-Gilchrist ran into him and drew the foul.

Game over.

"It was huge," Horn said. "We didn't guard the dribble well enough to give him a chance. We looked like freshmen and sophomores tonight. We hadn't done that in a while."

Leading 52-25 at halftime, Kentucky played Davis and Jones the bare minimum in the second half. USC was playing for pride at that point and barely pulled that off; the fear of going inside against Davis carried over although Davis wasn't on the floor. It took USC nearly 13 minutes to get double-digit points in the second half, as the lead swelled to as much as 42.

USC's bright spots were Leonard, not allowing a 40-point loss and not allowing just the second triple-double in Kentucky history (Davis had 22 points but stopped at eight on rebounds and blocks). Yes, it was that bad.

The Gamecocks allowed a sickening 51.6 field-goal percentage, which was actually quite a bit lower than what Kentucky shot before the starters sat down, and shot a meager 30.5 for themselves. Leonard, taking the initiative and driving inside, led the troops but USC got hardly anything from anybody else.

Ellington didn't drive and couldn't shoot from 3, ending with three points. Cooke had five. Anthony Gill, after demanding the ball and scoring five points on two straight possessions, quit asking and ended with 10, the final four in a flurry over the final minutes.

An awful night and an awful way to end the first half of the SEC schedule. The Gamecocks weren't expected to win many, after facing the three best teams in the league a combined five times among the first eight, but to be humbled on their home court to take away any possible momentum for the much easier second half was debilitating.

USC only has to play two of the league's big guns (Vanderbilt and Mississippi State) in the second half. The rest of the slate is filled with middle-of-the-packers. But being a bottom-feeder themselves, and coming off three hard-fought games and one where their rear ends were deposited behind their ears, the Gamecocks aren't very confident.

"We can't dwell on this one too much," Cooke said, a sentiment echoed by Horn. The Gamecocks are about to embark on a two-game road swing to Tennessee (2-5, played late Saturday) and Arkansas (4-4). The Volunteers are not very good but have a couple of Top-20 upsets on their slate, each at home, and the Razorbacks haven't lost at home all year.

USC has to keep trying to find answers to its sputtering offense, and now a defense that couldn't stop dribble penetration. Plus get over a 1-7 start, capped by a whipping at home.

"It's going to be a challenge, without question," Horn said.

Box score

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