Scout/Jeff Drummond

Kentucky Wildcats overcome loss of star point guard, roll past South Carolina Gamecocks

Kentucky stays undefeated in SEC play with 85-69 win over South Carolina.

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky is demonstrating that it is not only one of the most talented teams in college basketball, but also one of the best equipped to overcome adversity.

The No. 5 Wildcats saw De'Aaron Fox go down with an ankle injury midway through the first half of Saturday's game against South Carolina and had to go the rest of the way without the talented freshman point guard against the SEC's top-rated defense.

Typically, that would not bode well for a team facing the No. 24 Gamecocks. For Kentucky, it proved to be a minor setback.

The Cats got 27 points from freshman guard Malik Monk and tightened their defense in the second half, holding South Carolina to 33 percent from the field in pulling away for an 85-69 win at Rupp Arena. 

Kentucky (17-2, 7-0 SEC) also got 18 points from freshman center Bam Adebayo and a combined 23 points and 12 rebounds from its 4 spot platoon of Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel. Backup point guard Dominique Hawkins chipped in with five points and seven assists.

Their contributions helped overcome a night when the Cats got only six points from Fox, saw sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe go scoreless with seven turnovers and did not have senior guard Mychal Mulder due to illness.

"Malik Monk, you know, he shoots 14 balls and scores 27," UK head coach John Calipari said. "That's crazy. He's not out there just jacking balls. But I got to let him go some, because he just does some crazy stuff. Not being selfish, he just can score.

"I thought that Derek and Wenyen, again, they're just giving us so much now – 23 points, 12 rebounds at that position, making threes, making open shots, rebounding balls."

The Gamecocks entered the matchup allowing only 59.4 points per game and holding opponents to 36.3 percent from the field, but head coach Frank Martin said he sensed an uncharacteristic performance was coming after a bad Friday practice session.

"We picked the wrong team to be bad on defense against," Martin said.

Kentucky shot 58.3 percent (28 of 48) from the field, marking the seventh straight game the Cats have made more than half their shots.That's UK longest streak since the 1983-84 season.

South Carolina (15-4, 5-1 SEC) got a game-high 34 points from senior guard Sindarius Thornwell, who went 14-of-15 at the free-throw line. It marked only the 28th time that an opposing player has scored 34 or more points in a game at UK spanning the Rupp Arena and Memorial Coliseum eras. 

The Gamecocks were also hurt by the absence of a top player, sophomore guard P.J. Dozier, who missed the game with back spasms.

https://twitter.com/SLAMonline/status/822985437627187200

In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the game...  

WHAT WE LIKED:

Kentucky wobbled a bit when Fox went to the locker room with 8:50 remaining in the first half and re-emerged with a sweatsuit and a protective walking boot. The Cats saw a 17-point lead shrink to three but came up with a 7-0 run early in the second half to reclaim control of the game. The spurt was highlighted by an impressive one-handed tomahawk slam by Willis over South Carolina's Sedee Keita that ignited the Rupp Arena crowd of 24,389 and sparked UK's improved defensive intensity. The Gamecocks shot 52 percent in the first half, but only 33 percent in the second half.

GAME BALL:

Malik Monk, Kentucky -- With Fox sidelined by injury and Briscoe struggling, someone had to step up and carry the scoring load for the Cats. It may not sound too surprising that it was the team's leading scorer on the season, but being able to put 27 points on a stingy Frank Martin defense is one of Monk's top accomplishments this season. He has now scored in double figures in every game this season and topped the 20-point mark on 11 occasions. 

BY THE NUMBERS:

1st - Time since the 1976-77 season that Kentucky has scored at least 85 points in seven consecutive SEC games.

23 - Largest lead for the Cats, coming with 1:27 remaining in the game.

24-4 - UK's all-time home record when an opposing player scores 34 or more points. Texas A&M's Elston Turner was the last to win with 40 in 2013.

27-2 - The Cats' record against South Carolina in Lexington. 

58.3% - Shooting from the field, UK's best against a ranked opponent at Rupp Arena since January 4th, 1994, against No. 22 Vanderbilt (60 percent).

82.4% - Bam Adebayo's shooting from the field (14 of 17) during the last four games.

QUOTABLE:

"Isaiah knows, this isn't about me or barking, it's how he played. And he said, 'I'm not playing well, I got to get this going.' And we're not the team we need to be unless he's playing well. He had no points today. Come on. He backs into points. He had nothing today. That's OK. We still won and he was happy as heck in there, but there's a concern for him. Now it's like, come on, I know I'm better than this. The kid had seven turnovers. What? Seven turnovers. And he's not the kind of kid that does that. Not the kind of player." -- UK head coach John Calipari 

UP NEXT:

Kentucky returns to action Tuesday at Tennessee in a 9 p.m. ET tipoff on ESPN. The Volunteers (10-9, 3-4 SEC) beat Mississippi State 91-74 on Saturday in Knoxville. 


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