Big Blue blueprint

Kentucky unveiled the blueprint for frustrating Tennessee last Sunday – control the ball ... protect the ball ... shoot the ball infrequently ... keep the ball away from Chris Lofton.

The blueprint nearly worked, as the Wildcats came within three points of posting a stunning upset.

South Carolina will use that same blueprint to try and spoil the Vols' regular-season finale today at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.

The Cats put last Sunday's game in the hands of point guard Ramel Bradley, who had 17 points and 4 assists in 40 minutes. The Gamecocks will put today's game in the hands of an equally outstanding point guard, Devan Downey. He had 24 points while playing 38 minutes against UT Jan. 12 in Columbia.

The Cats forced a deliberate pace last Sunday by taking just 46 shots. The Gamecocks took just 51 shots in the Jan. 12 meeting and undoubtedly will utilize a similar strategy today.

The Cats committed 17 turnovers last Sunday but generally kept Tennessee from converting them into easy baskets. South Carolina, ranked No. 5 nationally at just 10.5 turnovers per game, committed 17 in the earlier meeting at Columbia but generally kept the Vols from turning them into easy scores, as well.

The Cats slowed Tennessee's transition game last Sunday, and the Vols shot a lame 40.7 percent as a result. The Gamecocks slowed Tennessee's transition game on Jan. 12, and the Vols shot a mediocre 42.6 percent.

The Cats blanketed Lofton last Sunday, limiting him to 3-of-5 field-goal shooting. The Gamecocks blanketed Lofton back in January, limiting him to 2-of-6 field-goal shooting.

South Carolina may not give Tennessee the same trouble that Kentucky did, but it's a safe bet the Gamecocks will give the Vols the same look Kentucky did. That could make for a tighter game than the records suggest. The Vols are 27-3 overall, 13-2 in SEC play. The Gamecocks are 13-16 and 5-10 but picked up a road win at Auburn last weekend.

"They beat Auburn at Auburn," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl noted: "They are playing well and they, like Kentucky, have some ball-control guards ... two great backcourt guys."

That's yet another similarity between Kentucky and South Carolina. Bradley got a lot of help last Sunday from backcourt mate Joe Crawford (9 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists). Downey gets a lot of help from backcourt mate Zam Fredrick, who averages 14.8 points and 3.1 assists per game.

The one area in which South Carolina and Kentucky significantly differ is backboard play. Kentucky outrebounded the Vols by 9 in a Jan. 22 meeting at Lexington and by two last Sunday in Knoxville. The Gamecocks, who carry a minus-5.0 rebound margin, lost the backboard battle 43-31 to UT on Jan. 12 and could face another backboard beating today.

South Carolina starts an even smaller lineup than the Vols. The Cocks' two tallest players are 6-7, 208-pound Dominique Archie (10.5 points, 5.7 rebounds) and 6-7, 240-pound Mike Holmes (7.7, 5.4).

The rest of the Carolina lineup consists of 6-5 Dwayne Day (5.2 points, 3.9 rebounds), 6-0 Fredrick (14.8 points, 3.0 rebounds) and 5-9 Downey (18.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists per game).

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