By Dr. John Huang
I went to a prizefight, and a basketball game broke out.
You knew the Kentucky/South Carolina game would be a slugfest. Kenny Payne told us so beforehand.
“He (Gamecock head coach Frank Martin) is going to make the game hard,” said UK’s associate head coach prior to the contest. “You’re going to get hit at times and you’ve gotta be ready for a fight. If you’re not, then the aggressor wins.”
You asked for it, you got it. Kentucky (12-4, 3-1 SEC) left Colonial Life Arena rubber-legged and blurry-eyed with a 81-78 defeat at the hands of South Carolina (9-7, 1-2 SEC). Frank Martin’s team did just as Payne said they would. They bullied and baited, teased and taunted. They pushed, shoved, elbowed and kicked the Wildcats into submission. Then they heaved up a three-point prayer at the end that miraculously swished through the nets as the buzzer sounded.
Quickley, Richards lead Cats
Immanuel Quickley kept the Gamecocks off balance all night with a variety of jabs to the head and hooks to the body. The sophomore guard continued on his shooting tear hitting 6-9 (2-4 three-pointers) in leading the team with 20 points. However, it wasn’t quite enough.
Behind another quick start from Nick Richards (15 points, 7 rebounds), Kentucky jumped out to a 8-0 lead. The Wildcats led 33-25 at the half and saw the lead balloon to 44-30 three-and-a-half minutes into the second half.
Something wicked this way comes
Then the demons took over. Whether ghouls in the building or ghosts in players’ heads, Colonial Life Arena took on a life of its own.
A furious South Carolina rally trimmed the lead to 54-50 with 10:35 to go. The Cats took a standing eight count and steadied themselves before South Carolina tied the game at 68 with four minutes left. The Gamecocks went ahead, the Cats fought back hard…until Jermaine Couisnard leveled the haymaker.
Both teams were whistled for a combined 10 fouls in the first seven minutes, 23 total in the entire first half, 54 for the game. Nick Richards got rope-a-doped into his 2nd foul on a flop call with 10:28 left in the half. He got his 3rd just 43 seconds into the 2nd half.
“The lack of discipline we had…you just can’t play that way in a big time game,” Coach John Calipari said afterward. “We’re on the road, it’s a hostile environment, we had some inexperienced guys. We had three guys go 2-13, and they’re all trying to get more minutes.”
Rooster Boy and Gamecock Jesus
There’s something about the blue and white that brings out the worst in South Carolina fans. When the Wildcats come to town, a school that doesn’t give a hoot about basketball suddenly morphs into the second coming of James Naismith. From the guy in the student section dressed as a rooster to “Gamecock Jesus” cheering from the end zone, these fans were into it from the get go. Throw in some beer sales and you had the perfect fight night atmosphere ripe for an upset.
Devastating loss will come to haunt
The reality is that South Carolina isn’t a very good ball club. Kentucky answered the bell, put together 23 solid minutes, before melting down at the end. For this particular team, it’s a bad loss that’ll haunt them throughout the season and well into the seeding process. It also happens to be John Calipari’s 4th loss here in Columbia. It’s gotta be the demons.
The long and winding SEC road doesn’t get any easier from here. Another tilt with Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena awaits this Saturday (4 pm Eastern). Will the Cats have enough fight left in them to take it to the Razorbacks?
We’ll find out what this team is made of in three short days.
LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!