If the pre-game conditions were any indication, it was going to be a long night for South Carolina. The Colonial Life Arena was a sea of blue. On the court it was a tidal wave of Wildcat dunks and alley-oops as the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats dominated the Gamecocks in an 86-52 victory Saturday night. Kentucky used its superior height in the paint, outscoring the Gamecocks 42-14 inside.
"It was the first time in a long time that I can remember that we didn't play early on with the kind of fight that we have been; the kind of fight that you have to play with the number one team in the country," Carolina head coach Darrin Horn said. "We looked like freshmen and sophomores tonight."
Carolina's only hope to combat the length of Kentucky's Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones was Carolina's Damontre Harris. The Gamecocks were hanging tough, down just 23-15 with 11:01 left in the first half, when Harris was forced to leave the game with his third foul. With Harris on the bench, Davis and Jones went off. Five alley-oops – four from Davis – and countless dunks later, Kentucky led 52-25 at the half. Davis had 18 points at the break while Jones had 16. 21 of their 34 points were with Harris on the bench.
"It was huge," Horn said. "The way the game was going at that point we didn't guard the dribble well enough and put him in some bad positions for those fouls. Right now he's a difference maker for us."
Meanwhile the Gamecocks could get nothing done on the offensive end, with the exception of the three-point line. Carolina was 4-of-9 behind the arc, but just 9-of-34 (27%) from the field. Most of that was due in large part to the length of Kentucky inside, as the Cats had seven blocks, five from Davis, in the first half.
The second half would be much of the same on both ends. When Carolina was brave enough to drive the lane, Davis was waiting on them – unibrow and all – to reject it. When the Gamecocks shot from the outside it was a miss and Kentucky was out in transition, usually ending up at the free throw line. The Wildcats shot 21 free throws, converting 16 of them.
If there was a bright spot for the Gamecocks, it was the play of Damien Leonard. The freshman star who has struggled this season with the lofty expectations, came to play against Kentucky. Leonard finished with a career-high 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting, but an impressive 4-of-8 from behind the arc.
With the game well out of hand Davis and Jones spent most of the second half on the bench. Davis finished with a game-high 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting, missing the final shot he took, and Jones finished 16 points after being shut out in the second half. Davis just missed out on becoming the second player in Kentucky history to finish with a triple-double, grabbing eight rebounds and eight blocks. His final block moved him into a tie with Shaq O'Neal for blocks by a freshman in the SEC with 116. Doron Lamb finished with 18 points and Kyle Wiltjer finished with 12, all in the second half.
"I think he's a difference maker," Horn said of Davis. "I'm not so sure he's not arguably the best basketball player in college basketball because of his ability to impact the game at both ends. He brings so much to their team and impacts the game so much at both ends."
South Carolina, 9-13 (1-7 SEC), travels to Tennessee Wednesday to take on the Volunteers. Kentucky improved to 23-1 (9-0 SEC).
#1 Kentucky blasts Carolina, 86-52
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