Kentucky spoils Odom's home farewell 71-63

Kentucky led much of the game by double digits, but USC clawed their way back within five late. With the shot clock about to expire, UK's Ramel Bradley fired a three point attempt that hit the rim and bounced high in the air. It came back down and bounced up again, and finally rolled into the basket. And that's pretty much the way the ball bounced the whole night for the Gamecocks, who lost 71-63.

Kentucky Coach Billy Gillespie talked about the Carolina run near the end and the key play of the game: "They really started making a run at us, and we guarded them well enough to win. When a ball goes up and hits the top of the backboard and then falls in, sometimes luck plays a little bit in the game."

In Dave Odom's final home game as head coach of the South Carolina basketball program, the Gamecock fans who came vainly hoped for a farewell upset of the SEC's most storied basketball program as a goodbye to the coach. It didn't happen.

Instead, the problems that have plagued the coach's farewell season remained a constant in his final appearance at the Colonial Center. An inability to score consistently against the UK defense was part of the story. Kentucky's ability to make the often spectacular big play was the other. And the UK defense at the end was the rest of their winning recipe on the night.

The Gamecocks actually improved their 3 point shooting percentage late in the game, which was an abysmal 18% until the late rally, finishing the night shooting 31.3%. They allowed the Wildcats meanwhile to hit 53.8% of their 3 point attempts, and 62.5% in the second half.

Odom talked about his walk off the court for the last time at the Colonial Center. "The alma mater was maybe a little more special to me. As I walked off, you can't help but try to look some people in the eyes for the last time. You want to make the most of what's left. At times like that, you take a stroll down memory lane, and I took it."

"I kinda promised myself win or lose tonight, when I got to my car, I was going to put the game to bed, and enjoy my ride home." Odom said. "I'll think about all the rides I've had. Just before I get home, I'll slap myself in the face and say we have a practice Friday, and then another one, and then a game we have a great chance to win."

As for the game, Odom said, "There was too much Joe Crawford, too much Ramel Bradley in the end. When they put their minds to it, they're as good as any two in the league. Billy Gillespie has done an excellent job of getting his guys to play to their strengths. It was a Kentucky night."

Crawford scored 4 of 7 from three point range and made 11 of 12 free throw attempts on the night for a team leading 35 points. Bradley was 3 of 6 from 3 point range and 5-6 from the free throw line, adding 20 points to the Wildcat cause on the night.

After a back and forth start that had South Carolina leading the visiting Wildcats 8-7, Kentucky scored ten straight points, and despite a game bunch of Gamecocks giving a good effort, the Wildcats were not challenged until late in the game, and the Wildcat's stout defense in the end ensured a Big Blue victory.

One clear bright spot for the future was the play of true freshman Mike Holmes. The 6'7" 240 lb forward led the team in first half scoring with ten points, and held his own in the paint against the boys in blue. He scored 16 total points, making 7 of 15 attempts from the field, most of them at point blank range as he forced his way to the basket, but he also showed some accurate shooting away from the basket on a couple of occasions.

Holmes also led his team with 10 rebounds, but a key stat in the game was that the Gamecocks were outrebounded under their own backboard 24-16, leading to a lot of transition baskets for Kentucky. The soft-spoken big man said, "We just didn't play that well overall, they got a lot of transition buckets. We wanted to play hard for Dwayne and Coach Odom's last home game and get a win, but we just couldn't get the chemistry going early on."

Holmes acknowledged his play had been up and down during the season, but he is closing the season strong, and played 34 out of 40 minutes tonight. When asked what made the difference in his game of late, he said, "I should have played this way the whole season. I just put it past me. I prayed, and I thanked God for my gift, and it all came together."

Another true freshman big man Sam Muldrow, also had a good game, with six rebounds and six points in 18 minutes of play. But with the exception of Zam Fredrick, it was not a good night for the USC outside game. Junior guard Zam Fredrick led the team in scoring with 17, but he and Holmes were the only players on the night in double figures for USC.

The normally dependable Devan Downey only scored nine points, and left the game with 54.5 seconds left when he fouled out. The SEC leader in assists made more turnovers than assists on the night, 4 to 3. Downey was unable to convert on one key series late in the game, and after that the game was decided.

Downey said, "I didn't have a great offensive night, but sometimes things like that happen. You have to play through that. Kentucky played me just right at the end."

The garnet clad home fans were small in number in the 18,000 seat Colonial Center, and strangers to the arena might have wondered who the home crowd was at times, because the Kentucky fans there were in full-throated support of their team much of the game. Official attendance was 13,324, but actual fans in the seats were probably closer to half of that.

The Carolina crowd finally came to life when their team rallied late, but it was not enough.

The Gamecocks will play their final regular season game of the season on the road this Saturday at 2 pm in Knoxville at Tennessee, before next week's SEC tournament.

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