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February 4, 2012
NO. 1 KENTUCKY WILDCATS (22-1, 8-0 SEC)
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (9-12, 1-6)
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
Kentucky's probable starters: G Marquis Teague 6-2 Fr. (9.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Doron Lamb 6-4 So. (13.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg); F Anthony Davis 6-10 Fr. (13.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg); F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 6-7 Fr. (12.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg); F Terrence Jones 6-9 So. (12.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 So. (11.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg); G Damien Leonard 6-4 Fr. (6.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg); F Anthony Gill 6-8 Fr. (8.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Sr. (12.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg); C Damontre Harris 6-9 So. (7.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina attempts to break a two-game losing streak by playing its second game in less than 48 hours. Kentucky has won 14 straight after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at Indiana gave it its only loss. The Wildcats lead the series 45-10 and 19-6 in Columbia. Coach Darrin Horn and assistant coach Cypheus Bunton are each Kentucky natives, Horn growing up in Lexington. USC held Florida, the nation's top team in terms of made 3-pointers, to its worst percentage of the season (25), but still lost. Harris is averaging 9.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game over his last five. Harris has blocked at least two shots in 11 games this season, while Davis is averaging over four blocks per game.
Next game: South Carolina tips off at Tennessee at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.
VIDEO: Darrin Horn
Fatigue and an extremely early arrival from a late tip the night before knocked any specific game plan out the window. Friday was more about getting sharp mentally than working on any piece of the opponent's game plan.
Naturally, part of that for a reeling team was to mention the last time this set of circumstances occurred. It was a longshot then and an even longer one now, but it still happened - and it still could happen.
"Yeah, you know, there's always a chance that you can get beat. Nobody's unbeatable," senior Malik Cooke said on Friday. "Coach has said the last time they came in, we played hard and we came out with the victory. We need to try and strive to do that again."
It should be noted that the last time Kentucky came to Colonial Life Arena, on Jan. 22 of last year, the Wildcats left with a 67-58 win. But then, the Wildcats were ranked No. 12.
The time before that, as in the last time they visited Columbia while being ranked No. 1, USC won 68-62, its first win over a No. 1 team in school history (and one that started a trend of the football and baseball teams knocking off No. 1 teams). With Kentucky No. 1 again, and USC coming off a loss at Florida (just as it was on Jan. 26, 2010), it had to be mentioned.
If nothing else, the Gamecocks (9-12, 1-6 SEC) could use a bright moment to think of, to take their minds off a draining stretch.
The team rolled back into Columbia from Thursday's 74-66 loss at Florida around 2 a.m. on Friday. The players and staff grabbed some sleep, the players went to class, then got on the court around 2:30 p.m.
Part of life in the SEC's TV package - except if a team is LSU, Auburn or Kentucky. But at least USC only has to go through it once.
"We'll have a practice today, which will be mostly mental, a walk-through type of thing," coach Darrin Horn said.
The mental edge and focusing more on intensity than on X's and O's has brought a new style of play to the Gamecocks over their past three games. While USC has only won once, it has kept the games close and been within one or two possessions of the lead in the final minutes of each.
Going against the Wildcats today, with NBA lottery picks all over the roster and an ESPN national audience looking on, USC hopes to get that same kind of effort. Against Florida, an early hole caused by sparse rebounding made the final charge a bit too difficult to mount; if the Gamecocks can't figure out how to keep rebounding and shot-blocking machine Anthony Davis off the glass and out of their faces, it could be a repeat.
It could also be a repeat of that time two years ago. One major difference is USC had Devan Downey then, a player capable of scoring 25 points per night if he felt like it. Downey put in 30 that game.
This year's Gamecocks have struggled to score consistently, a disease that has affected everybody on the roster. Cooke, asked if they could find a Downey-esque performance for tonight, shrugged.
"Maybe," he said. "If that's what it takes to win."
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