Wildcats right at home in Columbia
COLUMBIA -- As the final seconds ticked off the clock of South Carolina's worst basketball loss in five years, the chant echoed throughout Colonial Life Arena: "Go Big Blue!"
The 18,000-seat arena was nearly filled to capacity -- a rare occurrence for USC basketball -- and at least half of the fans wore Kentucky's blue.
They had plenty of reason to celebrate as the top-ranked Wildcats won, 86-52, in a game that was never really much of one. Kentucky (23-1, 9-0 Southeastern Conference) owned USC (9-13, 1-7) in every area and shot 32 of 62 (with 17 assists), compared to USC's 18 of 59.
Nobody on the floor was more dominant than Kentucky's lanky 6-10 freshman forward, Anthony Davis, who scored 22 points and had eight rebounds and eight blocks in 28 minutes, flirting with becoming just the second player in school history with a triple-double. (Chris Mills did it as a freshman in 1988.)
"I'm not sure he's not arguably the best player in college basketball because of his ability to impact the game on both ends," said USC coach Darrin Horn.
The Gamecocks ended their challenging first half of SEC play with the largest margin of defeat in Horn's coaching career. When he coached at Western Kentucky, he lost by 33. His previous worst loss at USC: 31 last year at Kentucky. The Gamecocks hadn't lost by 34 since they lost by 38 against Kentucky in January 2007.
USC fell behind 12-3 at the 17:19 mark of the first half and trailed by double digits from the 9:48 mark of the first half until the end of the game. The Wildcats led 52-25 at halftime. Eight of their 17 made field goals in the first half were dunks, including five by Davis. Kentucky's lead grew as large as 71-30 with 10:14 remaining in the game.
"The onslaught at the beginning was too much to overcome," said Horn, whose team has one senior and one junior. "I didn't think we guarded the dribble like we needed to and gave them some easy ones early. It was the first time in a long time that I didn't think we played early on with the kind of fight that we have been. We looked like freshmen and sophomores tonight, and we hadn't done that in several weeks."
The lone bright spot for USC was freshman shooting guard Damien Leonard, who scored a career-best 19 points and shot 7 of 16, including 4 of 8 on 3-pointers. In his previous three games -- the first he started after spending 11 as a reserve -- he scored nine combined points and shot 3 of 20, including 3 of 18 on 3s.
With trips to Tennessee and Arkansas coming up this week, USC's players want to forget pretty much everything else about Saturday's blowout.
"We're ready to get past it and move on to the next game," said Cooke. "We can't really dwell on this one too much."
They lost in front of a pro-Kentucky crowd that even coach John Calipari said was "unusual" in its size for a road game -- and Wildcats fans are known for traveling well. Calipari said that when he walked onto the court, he thought, "What in the world?"
Horn downplayed the atmosphere, saying, "I don't think that had anything to do with it. I think they played really well and we didn't."
3-Point Goals -- Kent 6-14 (Lamb 3-3, Wiltjer 2-4, Miller 1-3, Jones 0-1, Kidd-Gilchrist 0-1, Teague 0-2); USC 9-20 (Leonard 4-8, Gill 2-2, Williams 1-1, Cooke 1-4, Ellington 1-5). Steals -- Kent 6 (Davis 2, Jones 2); USC 0. Blks -- Kentucky 10 (Davis 8); USC 9 (Harris 4). Turnovers -- Kent 3 (Teague 2); USC 8 (Cooke , Ellington 2, Gill 2). A--16,527.