Block Party! Record Set as USC Dominates Cats

South Carolina took sole possession of first place in the SEC East tonight with their dominating victory over the Kentucky Wildcats, 77-59. The game will be remembered for the record 16 blocks by the Gamecocks, seven by Sam Muldrow, with each successive one sending the partisan Carolina crowd to a new ear-splitting level of joy. It was the most dominating win by USC in the teams' 50 game series.

Kentucky, the king of SEC basketball for decades and the pre-season favorite in the SEC East was supposed to be here. South Carolina under Kentucky native and new head coach Darrin Horn and no new players, wasn't. Yet when the two teams met to decide who would take sole possession of first place in the SEC East, it was the Gamecocks who dominated the game and looked like basketball kings on this night.

Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie was obviously under pressure to explain his team's being manhandled by the Gamecocks. He repeated five times in his post-game press conference that "The world is not going to end tonight." He said, "Give Carolina credit, we got our tails kicked …they made us play poorly. We'll be better the next time we play."

The seats at the Colonial Life Arena played a key role in South Carolina's domination of the Kentucky Wildcats Wednesday night. Yes, the garnet army was rocking the house from their seats, but it was the balls sent flying time after time after time into the seats by the Gamecock defense that defined this game. USC's 16 blocks surpassed the previous record set in 2005 of 15 against Alaska-Anchorage.

Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson was the biggest victim of the blocks, watching his shots being rejected eight times, and partially blocked several other times. Patterson was the game's leading scorer with 28 points, and he gamely battled down low with little help from his teammates. It wasn't enough. "They were able to block a lot of my shots, but I didn't fade away or shy away." He said. "A couple of times I probably should have pump faked but Coach told me to keep taking the ball at them."

Gillispie praised Patterson while taking the rest of his team to task for their performance. He benched Perry Stevenson for the entire second half, and sat SEC player of the year candidate Jodie Meeks down for over seven minutes. "To have absolutely zero help it was one of the most courageous efforts I've ever seen," Gillispie said. "He was getting his shot blocked quite a few times, but he never backed down and he never quit posting and he never ran from it."

Patterson was nearly called for a technical foul when he reacted in frustration after one more block. Devan Downey reached up and put a hand on the referee's shoulder and encouraged him to let it go, which he did. It may have been the only time the Gamecocks showed the Cats any mercy all night.

Sam Muldrow led the way with 7 blocks to go along with his 10 rebounds and eight points. Before tonight's game, USC Head Coach Darrin Horn watched game film from the previous game against Kentucky with Muldrow, and challenged the big man. "He got dunked on two or three times at Kentucky," Horn said. "I told him I thought he was better than that in so many words not for print." Muldrow obviously listened.

The coach praised his entire team along the same lines, acknowledging the team is ahead of expectations. "In terms of getting wins on the court it has happened a little quicker because we have great guard play and are athletic, and because these kids have bought into everything we have asked them to do," said Horn.

Dominique Archie contributed to the block party with four of his own, said he and the team were inspired by some bulletin board material of the Kentucky players, who said USC's earlier win at Kentucky was just luck on the Gamecocks' part. "We wanted to prove it wasn't luck," Archie said.

"I really think our bigs were the difference in the game," Horn continued. "You know Meeks and Patterson are going to be good, and Fredrick and Downey are going to do what they do. That's what all- SEC caliber players do." Horn said. "But I thought our bigs and our bench were the difference. They were terrific." Mike Holmes also contributed to the block record with three swats to go along with seven rebounds and four points. Fredrick and Austin Steed had one block apiece.

Downey, who is allegedly 5'9", was asked if he tried for any blocks as well. "I tried a few!" he said with a smile.

His contributions were numerous even without a block. He was the leading scorer, and led the team in with five assists and five steals. Too bad there aren't categories for hustle and leadership. He'd lead those too. Kentucky's Patterson saluted Downey as the "X factor" in the win. "When he has the ball in his hands, magic happens," Patterson said.

Downey said it was the most fun he's had in a game for South Carolina, and he wasn't surprised by the big win or the 18 point margin of victory, which was the largest ever over the Wildcats. They led by as much as 26 in the second half. "I always say, if we go out and play like we can play, we can beat teams by a pretty good margin," he said.

The crowd of 16,035 was about 2,000 short of a sellout, and was the third largest home crowd for USC this season. USC claimed 18,000 for the "Operation Sellout" crowd at the Georgia game, and a crowd of 16,507 was at last Saturday's 82-78 win over Arkansas. But the crowd at the Kentucky game was hands down the most vocal, as the garnet army was in full voice cheering on their team, the new royalty in the SEC East for now.

Horn was very appreciative of the fan support. "This crowd was absolutely unbelievable," he said. "I challenge anybody to say we don't have a home court advantage now in the Colonial Life Arena. Our fans were phenomenal. That building was as loud as I've ever heard and I've been in a lot of nice venues in my time."

Anyone who had been away from South Carolina basketball for a year would be astounded at the Colonial Life Arena filled to the rafters with screaming, adoring fans of the hardwood hometown heroes. The win marked the first time since 1997 that the Gamecocks have swept the Wildcats. 1997 was also the last time Carolina won the SEC regular season title.

The crowd was also appreciative of the coach. With 2:00 left, the students present led the crowd in a loud chant of their new hero's name: DARRIN HORN! DARRIN HORN!

USC started the game with their feet on their opponents' throats and never let up. They made five of their first seven shots including two 3-point attempts and quickly built a double digit lead. They led by 18 at halftime, 46-28. The first half was as dominating a half as USC has ever had against any SEC opponent, much less Kentucky. Dominique Archie led the Gamecocks in their first half domination of the Wildcats with 12 points, but this was a team effort, with all eight players Horn put on the floor scoring in the first half.

"It was really a terrific team effort from our guys," Horn said. "When I say team, I really mean team. It was everybody. It started with our defensive intensity. We got some shots early and got a bucket or two off our defense. We played with a lot of confidence tonight. It was a great win for our team."

Downey had 10 points, 3 assists and 3 steals at the half. He finished the game with 21 points. Zam Fredrick had 15 points, and Archie scored all 12 of his points in the first half. Every player scored who played more than the final minute, when Horn put his reserves in.

The home team did not let up, scoring the first six points of the second half. The only score in the second half that really mattered was the margin. Carolina kept it comfortably above 20 points almost the entire second half.

Kentucky's Jodie Meeks came into the game as one of college basketball's most prolific scorers, and he scored 18 points, but he and Patterson were the only ones providing any offense for the Wildcats Wednesday. Gillispie strategized by having those two big men hammer the ball down low against the foul troubled USC front court.

Mike Holmes picked up his third foul of the game almost 17 minutes remaining in the game and eventually fouled out with 3:06 left in the game. Austin Steed, who picked up his fourth foul with 13:07 remaining, and also fouled out with 5:39 remaining. Dominique Archie picked up four fouls and Sam Muldrow picked up three, but it didn't matter. The Gamecock defense and block party by the Carolina big men had decided the game's outcome early, and the Gamecocks continued to play well despite losing their big men one at a time down the stretch.

The Gamecocks improved to 9-4 in the SEC, and 20-6 overall. Kentucky fell to 19-9 overall and 8-5 in the SEC. The Wildcats dropped into a second-place tie with Florida. LSU clinched a share of the SEC West title and the regular season conference championship as a result of their 81-75 victory over Florida in Baton Rouge on Tuesday.

Carolina's first-year coach was clearly pleased on where his team is right now, but isn't ready to take his foot off the gas even a little just yet. "We are in this for the long haul. We want to build a program that is hopefully in this position playing for first place in late February more often than on just a given year, and the only way I know how to do that is to come out and keep working hard," he said. "I don't think we need to get to overly excited about it. We have to lay it one brick at a time, regardless of how we finish, and how this year finishes. We will still be only 12 months into building what we want to do in everything, academically, recruiting and implementing our system, all kinds of things."

"The thing I was most pleased with tonight is I thought we played really free," Horn said. "Our guys played with a tremendous amount of freedom on both ends of the floor. I would say it's the best we've played."

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