Why was he so successful despite the low field goal percentage? He drove the basketball with reckless abandon as Kentucky had no one to corral him. Add to this Brandis Raley-Ross scoring seventeen points (the most he's scored in an SEC game) and a young group of Wildcats who didn't play with total focus and you had the makings of an upset in front of a frenzied crowd. Despite having more depth and size Kentucky was a minus-6 (41-35) in rebounding margin, and with John Wall making just six of sixteen shots the Wildcats needed someone outside of he and DeMarcus Cousins (27 points) to step up.
That help didn't come, with Patrick Patterson attempting just four shots and combining with Eric Bledsoe to score nine points. Be it that stat or their issues on the boards the Wildcats were simply outworked by the Gamecocks and head coach John Calipari said as much after the game. "We're supposed to be one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country," said Calipari. "They came in minus-4 on the year and got 20 offensive rebounds. What it meant was S.C. was working harder than we were working."
While this is a big night for the Gamecocks it also provided Kentucky's youngsters a lesson they can use in March: if you don't bring your best effort every night you're getting yourself into trouble. As the saying goes: "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work".
Three Key Happenings
1. Rhode Island picks up a crucial road victory at Dayton. This one was a matchup of two teams in need of a solid victory with the loser falling further behind Temple and Xavier in the Atlantic 10 standings. The risk there, especially for a URI squad that's slipped in conference play after solid non-conference campaigns the last two years to miss the NCAA Tournament, is that falling too far back takes you off of the selection committee's radar. But thanks to a Marquis Jones three pointer with five seconds remaining the Rams left Dayton with a 65-64 win and an important split of their two games in Ohio (losing at Xavier on Saturday).
It was the second buzzer-beater for Jones against the Flyers in his career (doing the same in last year's 93-91 win) but this one also ended Dayton's 30-game home winning streak. The difference for Rhody was the three-point shot, where they outscored Dayton 30-9 for the game while also finishing a plus-3 in rebounding margin. Now 16-3 (4-2 Atlantic 10) the Rams have three of their next four games at home before visiting Temple on February 13th. It's imperative that they take care of business in the next four since the Temple game represents their best shot at another resume-building victory before the conference tournament. Win that one and they'll most like punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
2. Kansas State bounces back from Saturday's loss with a key road victory. The key to the Wildcats' 76-74 win at Baylor on Tuesday night: Jacob Pullen snapping out of his shooting slump. Having hit just 25% of his shots over the last five games, Pullen made seven of eleven shots (6-7 from behind the arc) on the way to a game-high 25 points. Denis Clemente added seventeen and Rodney McGruder ten off the bench as the Wildcats ended the Bears' eleven-game win streak. And just like Rhode Island, K-State's advantage behind the arc played a role in the outcome. Kansas State was a +24 in points from distance as the Bears made just three of fourteen shots on the night.
But Baylor was able to stay in the game because of their ability to get to the foul line, making twenty-three of thirty-one foul shots while K-State was just 9-for-16. This should give the Wildcats a bit of caution as the progress towards an NCAA Tournament berth. Their three-point shooting made up for the poor percentage from the charity stripe but what about on a day when the perimeter shots aren't falling? Well, if they can rebound (36-32 edge) and receive contributions from a number of sources (the seldom-used Jordan Henriquez-Roberts blocked three shots and grabbed five rebounds) Kansas State can give teams fits.
3. UAB takes out Tulsa to remain undefeated in Conference USA. In a matchup of conference unbeatens in Birmingham the Blazers used the foul line to hang onto the 65-55 win. UAB made thirteen straight foul shots at one point, making up for a twelve-minute stretch without a field goal. Elijah Millsap led UAB with 19 points and 12 rebounds as they took sole possession of first place in C-USA. During that cold spell the Golden Hurricane ripped off a 19-2 run that erased a 16-point halftime lead but Millsap's three-point play gave the Blazers the lead for the remainder of the game.
Tulsa was able to get back into the game by taking better care of the basketball, with fourteen of their seventeen turnovers coming in the first half. But for the game they shot just 38.3% from the field and 30% from behind the arc, numbers that caught up to them in the end despite the comeback. For UAB this is a crucial win from a scheduling standpoint, with three of the next four games (UTEP, at Memphis and Marshall) coming against teams likely to contend for the regular season crown. With five teams having either no or one loss in Conference USA play there's a clear line between contenders and pretenders so any win against the other four becomes that much bigger.
Top Three Games
1. Rhode Island 65, Dayton 64
2. Kansas State 76, Baylor 74
3. South Carolina 68, Kentucky 62
Three Notable Performances
1. F Aaron Thompson (Cal-State Fullerton) The senior led the Titans to a 92-84 win over Cal-State Bakersfield with 23 points and 14 rebounds.
2. C DeMarcus Cousins (Kentucky) Cousins scored 27 points while also grabbing 12 rebounds in the Wildcats' 68-62 loss at South Carolina.
3. G Devan Downey (South Carolina) He didn't shoot well from the field, making just nine of twenty-nine shots from the field. But he was a handful, leading to 10-for-11 from the foul line to score thirty points in the Gamecocks' 68-62 win over top-ranked Kentucky.