The freshman-dominated Gamecocks trailed from beginning to end and only a 21-8 run late in the game allowed the score to be close.
But with a 12-5 overall entering the week (3-2 SEC), coach Darrin Horn has to be pleased by the play of his team to date. With three freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup the team has been one of the league surprises after being picked to finish last in the Eastern Division.
Horn was still disappointed the Gamecocks didn't come out better prepared mentally to take on a 12th ranked Kentucky team that has dropped its first two league road games.
"I hope our young team learned a lesson today," said Horn. "We told them that the team we were playing would come in and have our backs against the wall ... The hole we dug ourselves was mental as much as anything else."
Although USC took 10 more shots than the Wildcats, it made one less as it shot only 33.3 percent from the field. The Gamecocks were 3-of-18 from 3-point range.
Since the team does not have another game until it hosts Auburn on Jan. 29, Horn hopes to use the week to get his squad re-focused, especially on the defensive end.
--In a mid-week overtime victory over Arkansas, South Carolina managed to come up with a victory despite being forced to play for 15 minutes without leading scorer and starting point guard Bruce Ellington. The same things happened against Kentucky as he picked up his second foul with 10:23 remaining in the opening half, then his third and fourth (which was assessed due to a technical) in the initial five minutes of the second. Although reserve point guard Eric Smith gave an admirable performance asking him to play more than 10 minutes is probably a bit much. Ellington must find a way to stay out of foul trouble if the Gamecocks are going to be successful the rest of the way.
--USC coach Darrin Horn has mentioned several times that, for his team to be successful this season, senior center Sam Muldrow will have to lead the way. Although his play was disappointing during pre-SEC play, he has stepped up mightily since league competition. That continued against Kentucky when he scored a career high 23 points, pulled down 13 rebounds and blocked three shots. He made seven of 12 field goals, including one of two 3-point attempts and eight of 10 free throws.
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- The number of blocked shots the Gamecocks are averaging in SEC play, which is number one in the league. Sam Muldrow leads the team with 59 blocks on the season. He has 231 in his career.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When you are working your way back from a deficit you have to make free throws and get a few stops. We just didn't meet that challenge today." -- Coach Darrin Horn.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. Auburn, Jan. 29
KEY MATCHUPS: Freshman Brian Richardson remains the starter at shooting guard and will probably stay there. He is being out-performed by sophomore Ramon Galloway, who came off the bench to score six points, pull down five rebounds, grab two steals and dish out an assist. In the Gamecocks' previous game against Arkansas he led the team in scoring with a career-high 21 points. Coach Darrin Horn likes the pick-me-up he gives the team off the bench.
FUTURES MARKET: Due mostly to foul trouble Darrin Horn was forced to play eight players for 19 minutes or more against Kentucky. While attempting to win as many as possible this season he is now comfortable with four freshmen and two sophomores in that rotation. While hopeful for this season, he is confident even bigger things are on the horizon in the future. Included in that rotation are first-year point guard Bruce Ellington and Eric Smith. Forward R.J. Slawson, South Carolina's Mr. Basketball as a high school senior, is also getting extended minutes.
--Senior C Sam Muldrow has been terrific in USC's last three games, scoring 53 points, grabbing 26 rebounds and blocking 14 shots. He has 32 blocked shots in the Gamecocks five SEC games.
--Freshman PG Bruce Ellington, the team's leading scorer, has tallied only 21 points in USC's last two games due mostly to limited minutes due to foul trouble. He totaled 55 in the Gamecocks first three SEC encounters.
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