Kelley Returns, But USC Falls To #9 Kansas
The game featured the return of senior point guard Tre Kelley, who had missed the first game of his career four days earlier with a knee injury. Kelley was clearly less than full speed, and could often be seen grimacing as he dribbled up court. After averaging just over two turnovers per game this year, Kelley had 5 in the first half and six for the game. Kelley started the game wearing a knee brace, but took it off at halftime and seemed to play much quicker, though he showed the effects of the missed practice as he wore down in the second half. "For the last seven or eight minutes he fatigued so badly he couldn't play defense," said Coach Dave Odom following the game.
The Gamecocks opened the game on fire. After Brandon Wallace blocked a shot, Kelley dribbled up court and found Dominique Archie for an alley-oop dunk. After missing a layup, something that happened frequently in the first half, Kelley came back and fired a beautiful bounce pass to Wallace for a layup and foul. Wallace missed the free throw, something that Carolina would struggle with throughout the game.
After the initial burst, Carolina came back to earth and Kansas began to assert itself. The Jayhawks went on a methodical 23-7 run over the next 10 minutes behind Mario Chalmers, who led Kansas with 19 points. According to forward Brandon Rush, Chalmers challenged the Jayhawks to play with more urgency. "Mario got us in the huddle and said we need to pick it up. That's what we did and it led to a big win." The run happened largely because Kansas was able to force the Gamecocks into committing turnovers. Carolina committed 11 turnovers in the half, against only 7 for Kansas.
"Our defense the first 15 minutes was excellent," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "When we play aggressive we foul too much." As a result, Carolina took nearly twice as many free throws in the half as Kansas. However, the Gamecocks failed to capitalize, making only 3-7 free throws and missing the front end of a one-and-one twice.
With 5:38 left in the half, Darrell Arthur, who scored 17 point off the bench for Kansas, made a layup to put the Jayhawks up 27-13, and it appeared the Gamecocks were on the verge of being blown out. However, Carolina stepped up defensively behind Wallace. Wallace controlled the defensive boards and Evaldus Baniulis hit a pair of three point shots to key a 15-5 run that pulled the Gamecocks to within 32-28 at halftime. For the half, Carolina outrebounded Kansas 20-11 and held the Jayhawks to only two offensive rebounds. "When we got behind in the first half, I just asked our team to raise the level of your play," Odom explained. "We did, and we hit some shots, and next thing you know we're down 32-28 at halftime and I'm feeling pretty good."
Kansas and Carolina played each other evenly to start the second half, but Kansas' depth soon began to show. With the Gamecocks playing only six players significant minutes, the Jayhawks' seven man rotation wore down Carolina. Kansas also stepped up on the boards. The Jayhawks responded to Self's challenge at halftime and outrebounded Carolina 20-8 in the second half, including six offensive rebounds. "Coach said we were getting outrebounded and getting our butts kicked," said Sasha Kaun, who responded with 6 rebounds in the second half.
After a pair of Wallace free throws made the score 49-42 with just under 12 minutes to play, Kansas took over. The Jayhawks did not allow a Carolina point for the next four minutes, as they stretched out a 56-42 lead. By this point, the pace of the game had changed significantly. Kansas went to a zone, and the Gamecocks were getting almost no movement on offense, as the players were too exhausted to run any sort of play. "[Fatigue] really became our Achilles heel in the second half," Odom noted. Kansas made the defensive adjustment out of necessity, but ended up making the most of things. "The biggest thing was they were in the bonus so early again," Self explained
A typical possession involved dribbling for 20 seconds while the players caught their breath before firing up an ill-advised shot as the shot clock ticked down. This played right into the Jayhawks' hands as they were able to limit the number of possession the Gamecocks had. "I thought, execution-wise, offensively we would have done a little better job," said Odom.
- Former Gamecock Renaldo Balkman returned to the Colonial Center Sunday. He watched the game from a courtside seat between the basket and the Carolina bench. Balkman received a standing ovation before the game when he was shown on the scoreboard.
- The Jayhawk fans traveled well. Several times during the game the Kansas fans were able to make almost as much noise as the Gamecock faithful.
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