Cats take one on the road, beat So Car 79-66

Patrick Sparks handled things from the outside and Randolph Morris dominated play in the paint, as the Kentucky Wildcats used a strong 54-point second half to cruise to a much-needed SEC road win over the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Patrick Sparks handled things from the outside and Randolph Morris dominated play in the paint, as the Kentucky Wildcats used a strong 54-point second half to cruise to a much-needed SEC road win over the South Carolina Gamecocks.

"Morris really opens things up for us, because they have to double him down low," Smith said, "this is one of the few games where we have played cohesively. We were taking care of details, doing the little things on offense and defense."

Sparks led the team with 26-points on 8-11 FG shooting (6-8 from three point range). Morris added 13 points, all from the paint and completed his double-double with 11 rebounds. The final score was 79-66. Joe Crawford would add 12 points and Bobby Perry would add 11.

For the second game in a row, coach Tubby Smith benched his traditional starters in favor of a lineup of Sparks, Ravi Moss, Brandon Stockton, Lukasz Obrzut and Bobby Perry: choosing instead to integrate his former starters into the game as the half wore on.

"This group really passed the ball well," coach Tubby Smith said of his new starting lineup, "that is what I mean about setting the tone of the game. These guys are doing that."

Both teams opened the game shooting poorly from the outside. With the game tied at 6-6, however, the Wildcats went on an 8-0 run to open a 14-6 lead behind strong inside play from Randolph Morris, Perry and Sheray Thomas. But the Cats would lose their shooting touch and the Gamecocks would head into the locker room with a modest 3-point lead, 28-25, behind the shooting of Tarence Kinsey and Antoine Tisby.

"The coach really challenged us at the half to come out and really dominate the game on defense," said Morris, whose 11 rebounds all came from the defensive end of the floor, "and we really came out and responded."

The second half would be all Kentucky. Patrick Sparks would find his eye from the outside and Randolph Morris would control the post. Ravi Moss would get the action started with a three-pointer out of the blocks and Bobby Perry would add a bucket to tie the game at 30. The Sparks would begin his aerial assault. Sparks would hit his next five 3-point attempts to power a Kentucky run that would leave the Wildcats with a 59-45 lead at the 7:06 mark. The Gamecocks would draw no closer than ten for the rest of the game.

"They really came after us in the second half," said South Carolina coach Dave Odom, "Sparks really hurt us out there today."

Kentucky limited South Carolina's second chance opportunities by dominating the boards and the Wildcats' defensive pressure held the Gamecocks to just 39% shooting.

"We set the tone defensively in the second half," Tubby said, "When Patrick shoots like that and Randolph rebounds this way, we will be tough to beat."

The Wildcats clicked on offense like few other games this year. The team finished shooting 56% from the field, 47% (8-17) from 3-point range and shot 76% from the free throw line. Kentucky improved to 17-9 for the season (7-5 SEC) while the Gamecocks dropped to 14-11 overall (5-7 SEC).

The Wildcats return home on Wednesday to play Mississippi, losers of seven of their last eight games before Saturday's game.

* Kentucky moves to 17-9 overall, 7-5 in the Southeastern Conference and has won two in a row. South Carolina is 14-11, 5-7 in league play.
* The Wildcats are 37-6 all-time against South Carolina, including a 14-4 record in Columbia and a 3-1 record in the Colonial Center. UK has won 20 of the last 22 meetings, dating back to 1997, and has won two in a row.
* Kentucky returns home on Wednesday, Feb. 22 vs. Ole Miss. The game will be at 8 p.m. and televised by Jefferson-Pilot Sports.

Team game notes (from UK Media)
* Key Stat: After going 0-for-8 from three-point range in the first half, Kentucky was 8-of-9 from long range in the second half. Kentucky's 47 percent three-point performance was its best in five games (.520 at Mississippi State).
* The Wildcats have hit at least one three-pointer in 601 consecutive games, the third-longest streak in the nation.
* Kentucky won the rebounding battle, 35-29.
* UK shot 56 percent from the field (29-of-52). Kentucky is 102-2 under Tubby Smith when shooting better than 50 percent. The Wildcats are 5-0 in SEC play when topping the 50 percent plateau and 8-1 overall this season.
* The Cats held South Carolina to 39 percent shooting, marking the second consecutive game in which UK has held the opponent below 40 percent.
* UK was 13-of-17 from the charity stripe (.765). It was the Wildcats' best free-throw performance since shooting 91.7% against Alabama on Jan. 14.
* The Wildcats' bench outscored the opponent reserves, 35-16.

Individual game notes
* Patrick Sparks was on fire after the break, scoring 24 of his season-high 26 points in the decisive second half. That total included six three-pointers (6-of-8). He also went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line and added four assists and two steals.
* Randolph Morris had his best defensive game of the season, tallying a season-best 11 boards, all of which were on the defensive end. He added 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting for his first double-double of the season.
* Sophomore Joe Crawford had 12 points and three assists. It was his 11th double-figure scoring effort of the year and his fourth in the last six games.

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