The No. 1 Wildcats accomplished that Saturday by clamping down their ferocious defense on South Carolina, holding the Gamecocks to 23 percent shooting from the field en route to a 58-43 win at Colonial Life Arena.
“We all had it in the back of our heads, but we really didn’t talk about it,” sophomore guard Aaron Harrison said of last year’s 72-67 loss in Columbia.
Instead, Kentucky (19-0, 6-0 SEC) let its defense do the talking. The Wildcats won comfortably despite being outrebounded 40-28 and going 10:03 without a basket of their own in the second half. Nine blocked shots and eight steals helped cover those blemishes.
“We’re a defensive team,” said Harrison, who scored 13 points and chipped in with three steals and a blocked shot on the other end of the floor. “And we knew we had to be physical against a team like South Carolina today.”
“I thought we played well,” UK coach John Calipari said. “I loved how we grinded it out.”
Freshman guard Devin Booker led the Cats with 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the floor and a pair of 3-pointers. Fellow freshman guard Tyler Ulis also had a good showing with six points and six assists.
South Carolina (10-8, 1-5 SEC) got 14 points from sophomore guard Sindarius Thornwell, but he went 3-for-11 from the field. The Gamecocks' leading scorer on the season, sophomore guard Duane Notice, was held to just two points on 0-for-5 shooting.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the day's highs and lows:
WHAT WE LIKED: Kentucky was dialed in defensively, both inside and on the arc. Any team that wants to challenge the Cats is going to have to make more than the three 3-pointers that South Carolina hit Saturday.
KEY MOMENT: After falling behind 24-23 with 4:31 left in the first half, UK closed with an 11-0 run to take a nice lead into the locker room. The run grew to 16-1 with a strong start to the second half that effectively ended South Carolina's upset hopes. Booker had seven points and Ulis scored four points and dished out three assists during the run.
STAT OF THE DAY: The Cats had just eight turnovers playing in a hostile arena that was craving its third win over a highly-regarded UK squad under Calipari. Ulis was particularly good under pressure, dishing out six assists with just one turnover.
BY THE NUMBERS:
1 - UK's Willie Cauley-Stein became the first player in program history with 200 blocked shots and 100 steals in a career.
2 - The Gamecocks stressed the importance of scoring before UK had a chance to set up its formidable half-court defense, but they managed just two fast break points on the day.
3 - South Carolina became only the third team this season to beat UK on the glass, joining Texas and North Carolina.
4 - Blocked shots by UK sophomore center Marcus Lee, tying his career high.
19-0 - The Cats' best start under Calipari.
QUOTABLE: "We are so big, we should be better in the post… We’re going to go back and work on that.” – UK coach John Calipari on getting just six points and five rebounds from starting big men Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein.
UP NEXT: Kentucky returns to action Thursday at Missouri in a 9 p.m. ET tip on ESPN. Missouri is coming off a heartbreaking 61-60 loss to Arkasnas on Saturday in Columbia. The Cats beat the Tigers 86-37 on Jan. 13 at Rupp Arena..