The eighth-ranked Wildcats will look to win their SEC opener for the 17th time in 18 years when they take on South Carolina on Wednesday at Rupp Arena.
"We realize that the heart and soul of any program for any conference is conference play and we've been really focused on it," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "One of the reasons our players come to Kentucky is because they know they're going to play against some of the best players in the country and play in the top basketball conference in America.
"This is an exciting time for us and I think our guys are starting to feel the intensity and the urgency of getting ready to play a very good South Carolina team."
Kentucky coasted in its final tuneup, winning 82-50 over Campbell last Wednesday. Randolph Morris matched the Wildcats' season high with 25 points as part of an attack that produced 52 points in the paint.
Morris is one of three starters set to make his SEC debut, along with fellow freshman Rajon Rondo and Western Kentucky transfer Patrick Sparks. The trio has combined to average more than 28 points per game.
"I've never played in the SEC," Sparks said. "It's a big conference with a different type of intensity. I'm really looking forward to it."
Kentucky will look to showcase its increased depth Wednesday. The Wildcats are averaging 23.2 points from their reserves after getting only 13.3 per game last season.
"It's an interesting Kentucky team that Tubby has put together," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "When they want to they can go extremely big and power you inside, and when they choose to they can go very small with four perimeter players and be very quick. He has extraordinary depth."
South Carolina (8-3) also had little trouble in its final game before SEC play, recording a 76-44 win over Wofford on Friday. Josh Gonner scored 20 points and Carlos Powell added 14 for the Gamecocks, who limited the Terriers to 15 points in the first half.
Odom has used Gonner off the bench after the senior guard started the first eight games. Gonner did not play against South Carolina State on Dec. 22, but has averaged 17.5 points in his last two outings.
"I wasn't pleased with how (Gonner) was playing, but less pleased with how he was reacting to the way he played," Odom said. "He came back recommitted and acting as you would and should when things don't go well. He is trying to be an important example for the guys on our team."
Kentucky has won 17 of the last 18 meetings with South Carolina, and is 17-1 all-time against the Gamecocks in Lexington.
Scouting the Gamecocks
The Gamecocks open league play Wednesday sporting an 8-3 record and having won three of their last four games. The only loss in that stretch came at No. 10 Pittsburgh on Dec. 29, a 72-68 defeat. USC opened the season with four consecutive victories, a streak that was snapped with an overtime loss to Clemson at home on Dec. 4. The Gamecocks also count a four-point loss at Kansas.
Senior Carlos Powell leads the team with 14.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg. He's shooting 57 percent from the field as well. Tarence Kinsey adds 10.7 ppg for the Gamecocks, while Tre Kelley is averaging 3.6 assists per game.
Dave Odom is in his fourth season at South Carolina, holding a 65-45 record in Columbia. Overall, he's 343-219 in his 19th season.
Pos. # Name Ht. Wt. Cl. PPG RPG Notes F 44 Chuck Hayes 6-6 242 Sr. 11.6 9.4 44 points from 1,000 in career F 24 Kelenna Azubuike 6-5 208 Jr. 14.4 4.9 13-of-25 FGs in last two games C 33 Randolph Morris 6-10 266 Fr. 10.2 4.4 11-of-14 FGs vs. Campbell G 4 Rajon Rondo 6-1 171 Fr. 6.4 *2.4 Averaging 23.0 minutes per game G 22 Patrick Sparks 6-0 180 Jr. 11.7 *5.2 Leads SEC in assist/TO ratio SOUTH CAROLINA Pos. # Name Ht. Wt. Cl. PPG RPG Notes F 33 Brandon Wallace 6-9 195 So. 6.5 5.4 Averaging 1.73 blocks per game F 15 Carlos Powell 6-7 225 Sr. 14.5 6.5 14 pts, 9 rebs vs. Wofford F 10 Rocky Trice 6-2 160 Jr. 5.1 2.5 Has started last three games G 21 Tarence Kinsey 6-7 184 Jr. 10.7 3.1 Shooting 38.2% from 3FG G 1 Tre Kelley 6-0 182 So. 9.8 *3.6 8 pts, 7 assts vs. Pitt last week *assists per game