FACTS & STATS: Site: Rupp Arena (23,500) -- Lexington, Kentucky. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: USC 8-5, UK 10-2. Away Record: USC 1-4, UK 4-3. Neutral Record: USC 3-0, UK 1-1. Conference Record: USC 2-6, UK 6-2. Series Record: Kentucky leads, 46-10.
GAME NOTES: The Kentucky Wildcats open up a two-game homestand on Tuesday night when they welcome the South Carolina Gamecocks to Rupp Arena for an SEC showdown.
Despite sitting at 12-9 a year after logging a 10-21 record, South Carolina's pace has slowed considerably in SEC play. The Gamecocks have dropped six of eight games since beginning league action, most recently losing a home matchup with Georgia this past Saturday, 67-56.
Kentucky's 15-6 record may not seem terribly disappointing, but it definitely hasn't been the type of season a program with its pedigree expects to produce, especially considering its No. 3 preseason ranking and the fact that it is the defending national champion. Things have been looking up of late however, and following a 72-68 overtime win over Texas A&M on Saturday, its 6-2 league ledger has it tied with both Ole Miss and Alabama for second place in the SEC standings.
The Wildcats have dominated the series with the Gamecocks over the years, winning 46 of the 56 previous encounters, which includes victories in each of the last five matchups.
South Carolina didn't have much of a chance the last time out, as it shot only 35.8 percent from the field while allowing Georgia to connect on greater than 58 percent of its attempts. Michael Carrera was one of the few standouts for the Gamecocks, as he tallied 16 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Bruce Ellington netted 14 points but he also committed five turnovers, while Brian Richardson scored 12 points in a reserve role. On the season, USC is one of the better scoring team in the SEC, putting up 69.1 ppg, but in its last four losses that number has plummeted to just 52 ppg. Williams (10.6 ppg), Ellington (10.3 ppg) and Carrera (10.2 ppg) are the leading point producers, but the Gamecocks rely on a deep rotation, with 10 players averaging at least 3.5 ppg. Carrera (7.0 rpg) and Lakeem Jackson (9.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg) are both crucial components down low.
Kentucky saw its 10-point, second-half lead disappear down the stretch against Texas A&M as a last-second Aggies' jumper forced overtime, but the Wildcats were able to regain the momentum in the extra session as they captured the impressive road victory. Leading the way was freshman sensation Nerlens Noel, who tallied 19 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks. Julius Mays also scored 19 points on 4-of-6 3-point efficiency, while Kyle Wiltjer chipped in 10 points off the bench. Noel hasn't been the Wildcats' most impressive scorer (10.6 ppg), but he's been a difference-maker all over the court, grabbing 9.5 rpg, logging 2.3 spg, and coming up with a national-best 4.6 bpg. Fellow freshmen Archie Goodwin (14.8 ppg, 3.2 apg) and Alex Poythress (12.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, .614 FG percentage) are also solid performers, while upperclassmen Wiltjer (10.6 ppg), Ryan Harrow (10.2 ppg), and Mays (9.0 ppg) round out a strong rotation. As a team, Kentucky pours in more than 76 ppg on 48.6 percent field goal shooting, while holding its opponents to just 62.9 ppg.
The Wildcats finally seem to be hitting their stride heading into the last month of the regular season, and at home they should continue their recent run of success against a downward-trending group of Gamecocks.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Kentucky 79, South Carolina 67
02/05 10:33:00 ET
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