Kentucky Takes The Lead At Home With Win Over SC

In the first sixty seconds of the game South Carolina's Renaldo Balkman nailed a wicked in-the-act-of-being-fouled prayer for two, then promptly went to the other end of the court and blocked Kentucky's first shot down low. If the Gamecocks were intimidated by the Rupp mystique, it did not show. This was going to be a battle ...

The opening pace was fierce as both teams traded scores to the 15-minute mark with each applying pressure defenses on the other – but by the 14 minute mark the Gamecocks led 11-8 and that was where it paused for the first TV timeout of the game.

By the ten minute mark the Gamecocks had weathered a mini storm thanks to the play of bench freshmen Tre Kelly and Brandon Wallace – to lead 17-13. Renaldo Balkman was everywhere. Literally ... everywhere. Balkman was flying around making plays the likes of which we have not seen before.

Both coaches substituted freely early as if playing a chess match to see who would last ‘till the end. By the six minute TV timeout SC led 19-16. We could hear the announcers sitting down in front of us referring to the Gamecocks as "Carolina" like it should be.

Kentucky closed to within one until Carlos Powell put home a big left-handed mini hook followed by a steal and a slam dunk that put the Gamecocks back up by five. Kentucky answered quickly with SC not getting back on defense – but seconds later a Carlos Powell feed to Kelly would result in a dish to Gonner that led to two and another five point lead. But again the Cats answered with a quick two only to have Carlos Powell answer once again with another two. Kentucky answered, Powell attempted to answer but had his shot blocked and Antoine Barber used the opportunity to tie with a big three. On SC's next possession they turned the ball over on an offensive foul and that was all it too to get the Big Blue crowd into the game with a minute and fifty-two remaining in the half - Kentucky with a chance to take the lead for the first time in almost fifteen minutes.

Dave Odom called a full time out with Kentucky in possession of the ball. It worked.

The Gamecocks came out and got the steal but failed to convert, Kentucky rebounded and moved the ball until Tubby Smith decided to take a 30 second time out with 43 seconds remaining and 21 on the shot clock. The timeout was fruitless as Kentucky was unable to convert points and SC rebounded with 24.4 seconds remaining and Dave Odom calling a time out. The Gamecocks had two tries at taking the lead but both Carlos Powell's and Josh Gonner's shots fell short as the first half ended knotted-up at 27 all.

Kentucky opened the second half with Cliff Hawkins hitting a left handed jumper while being fouled by Josh Gonner. Hawkins converted for a three point play taking the lead to begin the half. And then Kentucky showed that they intended to apply full court pressure in an attempt to change the pace of the second half.

Kentucky jumped to a four point lead in the very first minute of the half – while drawing fouls on Gonner, Powell and Balkman. Clearly Tubby had made adjustments that he thought might befuddle the Gamecocks – and it worked.

But Dave Odom would call a time out and make adjustments of his own at the 18 minute mark – and the Gamecocks would promptly turn the ball over twice in a row to going down by first six 36-30 before Odom would call yet another quick time out, his second in seconds.

Kentucky's full court press was brutal as the Gamecocks were caught taking the ball down into the corner … Kentucky forced yet another turnover after the T.O. The three turnovers by the Cocks in the opening minutes of the second half equaled their entire turnover total of the first half.

Michael Boynton finally hit his first field goal of the day, a big three at the seventeen minute mark, to pull the Gamecocks within three 33-36.

Carlos Powell was forced to collect splinters with his third foul at the 15:23 mark and Kentucky leading 40-35.

Rolando Howell showed flashes of Carlos by taking the ball to the hoop for two and he was fouled. He hit the free for three and Carolina dropped back to give the Cats a taste of their own full court pressure.

Tubby called a time out.

At he 14 minute mark of the second half Kentucky had been to the free throw line 14 times compared to Carolina's 4.

A beautiful dish by Terrance Kinsey to Tre Kelly gave the Gamecocks the tie and the lead with the free throw converted by Kelly – and the Gamecocks notched up the defensive pressure as the score teeter-tottered back and forth. But Kentucky and their crowd were feeling the possibilities and the Cats clawed their way back to a four-point lead, 45-41 at the second TV timeout of the half with 11:50 remaining in the game.

The Cats came out of the time out and immediately went up 47-41, but Tre Kelly would answer with a big three of his own from the left corner.

You got the feeling right about now that both teams were about to take their offensive games up a notch or two and Josh Gonner proved it with a hustle put-back two. Tre Kelly reinforced it after a steal with a nifty move down court that left Michael Boynton open to convert the three and tie the game at the nine minute mark.

Kerbrell Brown responded with a two of his own and he was fouled but was unable to convert the three. The game was once again dead-locked for the moment at 51 all with eight minutes remaining in the game.

It was there that South Carolina forced Kentucky into a shot clock violation – this one was going down to the wire.

Renaldo Balkman spun on an unbelievable move down low on the baseline to score and draw the foul - which he converted for the three, as the Gamecocks and their fans found themselves back-up 54-51 with seven minutes and fifty seconds remaining in the game.

The Kentucky crowd was worried. Tubby had thrown everything he had at the Gamecocks, but SC had refused to wilt on the road.

Kentucky took the T.O. possession and got a gift fresh shot clock which eventually led to two … before coming down and stopping the Gamecocks then going down and scoring with an overlooked Daniels offensive goal-tending put-back.

(Two bad no-calls in a row by the refs that went Kentucky's way.)

Michael Boynton answered with a big three … cha ching. The Gamecocks retook the lead 57-55.

Chuck Hayes hit a long two to tie for Kentucky.

4:12 remaining and hearts were beating faster on both sides – especially among those watching in person. Talking heads could be heard saying, "Wow, this is really a good ballgame!"

Renaldo Balkman scored on a put-back giving the Gamecocks a two point lead 59-57 and the Cocks turned on Kentucky with a big blocked shot just before the final TV timeout with 3:26 to go.

This was a good time to remember what this game was for … sole possession of first place in the SEC East. Both teams were playing like it was the championship game.

Kentucky had the ball out of the timeout and McDaniels hit a nice little turnaround bank shot to tie it up once again.

South Carolina would turn the ball over for the tenth time with two and a half minutes remaining, then the eleventh time with 2:26 remaining … Kentucky too had turned it over exactly eleven times as well.

With two minutes remaining in the game Daniels went over Josh Gonner's back for the foul sending Josh Gonner to the line. Gonner notched his ninth point, but could not convert his tenth at the line giving the Gamecocks a one point lead.

Azubuke hit a monster three with 1:30 remaining to give the Cats a two point lead but Michael Boynton answered with a three of his own.

With 1:09 remaining Tubby Smith took a full timeout after Barber put Kentucky up by two, 65-63. This game was earning "classic" honors even before its ending.

The Gamecocks came out of the time out with possession and the fans not knowing whether they would burn clock or play for the safe two. At the one minute mark Hayes settled it for them with an over the back call on Carlos Powell that sent Carlos to the line. He squeaked in the first and front rimmed the second with 50 seconds remaining and Kentucky leading 65-64.

The Gamecocks held Kentucky to NOTHING! NOTHING! Bound and determined to get the final possession with a chance to win – South Carolina held Kentucky to NOTHING.

There was 22.5 seconds remaining on the clock and the ball South Carolina's to do with as they pleased. Kentucky pressed full court man-to-man and first place in the SEC on the line … and SC was forced to call a time-out with 4.3 ticks of the clock showing and one last chance to win for the Cocks.

After a couple of time-outs … Boynton in-bounded uneventfully, Kerbrell Brown missed a behind the backboard jumper from the right side - and the Cats would regain the SEC East lead.

The final – Kentucky 65, South Carolina 64.

The Wildcats (16-3, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) moved past South Carolina (19-4, 6-3) into first place in the SEC East division.

``I thought our team deserved a chance to win the basketball game and we got it,'' South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. ``That's what any coach wants -- a chance to come in and win the game at the end.''

Odom clearly felt that his team had faltered in one particular area - and that it had cost them the game.

``On the offensive rebounds, they annihilated us,'' Odom said. ``You give up second- and third-chance shots, and they beat you in the backside.''

Renaldo Balkman scored 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting from the field. Boynton and Powell each dropped in twelve to lead South Carolina, which shot 5-for-8 from 3-point range in the second half. Neither team led by more than six during the game, Kentucky out-scored SC 38-37 in the second half and that was the difference in the game.

``We take away from this game a feeling that, just maybe, we belong somewhere in a meaningful place in this league,'' Odom said.

With the loss the Gamecocks fell to second place in the SEC East, one half game behind the Wildcats with seven regular season games remaining. South Carolina welcomes number seven Mississippi State into the Colonial Center Wednesday night, followed by another home tilt grudge match against Vanderbilt on Valentines' Day. Then USC travels to Florida and Arkansas consecutively before returning home to face Georgia and Kentucky. They conclude their regular season on the road at Tennessee.

With four home games and three road challenges remaining, the Gamecocks need to retain serve at home, and win at least one on the road, in order to have a shot at the regular season Eastern Division crown. SEC tournament play begins on March 11 in Atlanta.

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