Stop Downey and you beat the Gamecocks

The Gamecocks' win over UK in their first meeting has been the single blemish on UK's record thus far in the John Calipari era, a stain the entire team is unlikely to forget when the ball is tossed in the air on Thursday night. And even if the entire Wildcats squad became suddenly and unexpectedly afflicted with mass amnesia, 23,000 of their closest friends will be on hand to remind them.

One would think that it might be difficult for coach John Calipari to motivate the team for Thursday's game. After all the Wildcats will be returning to the friendly confines of Rupp Arena and will be meeting a team that has lost its three games in a row, agreed? And the Cats, after all, are coming off nail-biting emotional wins against two of the better SEC teams on the road; a let-down would be natural, right?

So, the Cats will probably want to look past Thursday's game just a little to the big road matchup with Tennessee on Saturday, correct? Doubtful.

When South Carolina provided the Wildcats with its single black eye of the season, a 68-62 loss nearly a month ago, that pretty much guaranteed that John Calipari's squad would focus its full and undivided attention on the rematch on Thursday in Rupp Arena. If you're coach Darrin Horn, that's probably not good news.

In their opening meeting Devan Downey went off on the Wildcats, scoring 30 points. Big man Sam Muldrow played UK's big men toe-to-toe and claimed 11 rebounds, enabling the Gamecocks to be one of the very few teams to out rebound the Cats and the only team to outscore them.

The result was the single blemish on UK's record thus far in the John Calipari era, a stain the entire team is unlikely to forget when coach Horn's team takes the floor. And even if the entire Wildcats squad was suddenly and unexpectedly afflicted with mass amnesia, 23,000 of their closest friends will be on hand to remind them.

Since South Carolina managed that big win over Kentucky, the Gamecocks have fallen on harder times. The victory over UK put SC at 3-3 in the SEC East and at least within shouting distance of the division leaders. Since the win over the Cats however, the Cocks have dropped four of their last six games including the last three in a row.

In the three most recent losses, one need not look much past the performance of their star, Devan Downey for at least some reasoning. In those games Downey has continue to take more than his fair share of shots, but has connected on just 21 of 68 attempts, barely 30% from the field. In their most recent loss to Tennessee, Downey was 4-18 from the field in 39 minutes.

The message seems clear; stop Downey and you will probably beat South Carolina.

The dynamic surrounding this game stretches into the following game, which may be Kentucky's toughest matchup yet, a trip to Knoxville to meet Tennessee just two days later.

With the win over Vanderbilt in Nashville, Kentucky is in the Catbird's seat to win the SEC East. A win over South Carolina would put them ever so closer to winning the SEC East crown outright.

The Cats have faced their stiffest challenges of the season since February 13th. They have beaten the best three teams in the league that are not named Kentucky, with two of those wins coming on the road. It's a shame that Kentucky will likely face its stiffest challenge yet on Saturday in Knoxville with such a short rest, but it is what it is. With three relatively tough games remaining on the schedule UK could ill-afford to slip up a second time against South Carolina, but I strongly suspect Calipari and crew have no intentions of letting that happen.


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