February 3, 2012
February 4th has been a magnet for milestones in South Carolina basketball.
On February 4, 1956, the Gamecocks had their highest-scoring game, a 121-point effort against The Citadel in Charleston. On February 4, 1971, John Roche poured in a school-record 56 points in a win over Furman.
We'll see if February 4 time-stamps another historic moment for South Carolina basketball. Pre-tip reads before #1 Kentucky descends on Gamecock Country:
SEC-ond Coming: The Gamecocks have a short turnaround to engineer a not-so-short turnaround from their last meeting with Kentucky, a 79-64 loss in Lexington. What did we learn from that first game? What has evolved with the Wildcats since? Pay attention to these four factors:
Heading into the Gamecocks' first matchup, the newspapers in Lexington blared with "What's Wrong with Terrence Jones?" headlines. In the first two months, Jones' play drifted between uninspired and indifferent, a problem only worsened by a broken pinky on his shooting hand. Against South Carolina, the 6'9" sophomore made his first 8 shots, finished with a team-high 20 points, and hasn't looked the same since.
Terrence Jones (left) has elevated his game since the last time South Carolina faced him.
In three career games against the Gamecocks, the 6'9" sophomore has averaged 17.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. He has a smooth left hand, the playmaking skills of a guard, and the ability to break down taller defenders on the perimeter. When he's on, teammates like Darius Miller and Doron Lamb have more room, as head coach John Calipari put it, "to do what they do." Can the Gamecocks reduce his impact Saturday?
Protect At All Costs: Like the Miami Heat, no team in the SEC converts turnovers into fast breaks as quickly as Kentucky. With the nation's leading shot blocker, Anthony Davis, playing goaltender around the rim, the Wildcats can play aggressively and gamble for steals on the perimeter. It helped UK to a 12-0 edge in fast-break points against the Gamecocks January 7.
Yet for all their ponderous length and athleticism, Kentucky doesn't go after turnovers as hard as you think. The Wildcats rank 9th in the SEC, and 218th nationally, in TO%. Only 19.8% of opponents' possessions result in turnovers. Kentucky is not an aggressive takeaway team, meaning Carolina needs to be strong with the ball (right: Lakeem Jackson vs. Florida). The Wildcats prefer to lay back, wait for blocks (1st NCAA block %), and get runout-rebounds (1st NCAA 2pt. FG% defense). The Gamecocks only committed 12 turnovers against Kentucky in Lexington. Can they be strong with the ball again in Columbia?
Yet for all their ponderous length and athleticism, Kentucky doesn't go after turnovers as hard as you think. The Wildcats rank 9th in the SEC, and 218th nationally, in TO%. Only 19.8% of opponents' possessions result in turnovers.
Kentucky is not an aggressive takeaway team, meaning Carolina needs to be strong with the ball (right: Lakeem Jackson vs. Florida).
The Wildcats prefer to lay back, wait for blocks (1st NCAA block %), and get runout-rebounds (1st NCAA 2pt. FG% defense). The Gamecocks only committed 12 turnovers against Kentucky in Lexington. Can they be strong with the ball again in Columbia?
Kentucky's a Tougher Team: Not "tougher" in the sense of more talent-laden, but "tougher" in the sense of, well, toughness. LSU and Tennessee both tried to play Kentucky physically - swinging elbows, delivering hard fouls, and in the case of LSU's Malcolm White, horse-collaring Anthony Davis on a breakaway. The strategy only seemed to inflame the Wildcats. Kentucky not only responded, but it dished out punishment of its own, overpowering the Tigers and Vols with its defense and athleticism. The Wildcats have held their last three opponents to 50 or fewer points, the first time that's happened in three consecutive games since the 1950-51 season.
Kentucky has responded to physical play, but John Calipari admitted before the Tennessee game that "we don't want this to be a rough, win-in-the-weight-room game. That's not how we play." Can the Gamecocks set a physical tone, but avoid the foul trouble that plagued them in other SEC contests? Damontre Harris, in particular, was racked by fouls in Lexington - Kentucky outscored Carolina by 14 points over the final 13:50 of the first half after Harris collected his second foul.
Bruce Ellington has had star-crossed stat lines vs. Kentucky.
Get Bruce to Produce: Bruce Ellington relied on unpredictability to be an effective Wildcat quarterback. He'll need that same unpredictability as he quarterbacks the Gamecocks against the Wildcats. Ellington has shot 7 of 35 (20.0%) from the floor and 3 of 24 (12.5%) from three-point range for his career against the Wildcats, often bothered by their unending parade of tall guards. On the bright side, Ellington has dished out 12 assists versus 2 turnovers in 84 career minutes.
Creator vs. Facilitator? - Bruce Ellington Career vs. Kentucky
Shooting 7-35 FG (20.0%), 3-24 3pt. FG (12.5%)
Passing 12A, 2 TO (6:1 A/TO ratio)
Ellington sometimes rushes against tall backcourts, quick-firing shots or trying to shoehorn drives into the lane. That's understandable - he needs an extra half-step to get his shot over players 8" to 13" taller than him. The Gamecocks will need his offense Saturday. But if the situation calls for it, can Bruce still make an impact without scoring?
And Finally... Kentucky reserve forward Eloy Vargas practiced with the Dominican Republic National Team this summer, but didn't make the final roster for the FIBA Americas Tournament.
Who was the Dominican Republic head coach who delivered that unkind cut?
Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pre-game coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network. We'll see you at Colonial Life Arena.