#10 KENTUCKY (12-3) AT SOUTH CAROLINA (8-7)
6:30 p.m. ET; SECN
Don’t look now, but since losing back-to-back games to Utah and Ohio State at Las Vegas in mid-December, Kentucky has gotten its act together.
The 10th-ranked Wildcats will take a four-game winning streak into a Wednesday night game against South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.
Kentucky (12-3, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) started its early-season comeback with a 78-70 overtime victory over then-No. 3 Louisville and followed that with conference wins over Missouri, Georgia and Alabama.
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks (8-7, 0-2) have lost their past three outings. They are coming off a 56-55 setback at Tennessee on Saturday, losing a chance to go for the win when an offensive foul went against guard AJ Lawson in the closing seconds at Knoxville.
But the difference in the game came down to the foul line, where the Gamecocks were only 13 of 22 to Tennessee’s 22 of 28. It was at least the fourth time this season that poor free-throw shooting has proved costly for the Gamecocks.
“You don’t lose because of your free-throw shooting,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said, “but when you keep missing nine, 10, 11 free throws a game, you’re not going to win. You’re definitely not winning high-level games.”
The Gamecocks are shooting 61.4 percent from the charity stripe for the season, which ranked 345th in the nation entering Monday.
“I’m still trying to figure my team out and I’m finding some guys that are going to fight,” Martin said. “Those are the guys I’m going to keep playing. We’ve got to get to a place where we’re more consistent in shot-making.”
Shooting from long range has been a big factor in Kentucky’s surge. After hitting just 27.8 percent from 3-point range their first 11 games, the Wildcats have connected on 44.8 percent of their attempts the past four despite going only 4 of 16 against Missouri.
The Wildcats were 9 of 15 on 3-point attempts against the Crimson Tide. Guard Immanuel Quickley was 5 of 6, forward Nate Sestina 2 of 3 and guard Ashton Hagans 1 of 2. Guard Tyrese Maxey was only 1 of 3 but was 5 of 6 against Louisville in the game that started the resurgence.
“Everybody’s game plan is going to be to try to make us take threes,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “But you have Immanuel, you have Nate, you have Tyrese and even Ashton, so I mean, we can make them.
“But we’re one of those teams, we get to the foul line, we get you in foul trouble. We’ll take threes, but it’s not how we play.”
For the season, Kentucky has attempted 334 free throws and made 259, which is more makes than its opponents have attempted (232).
Quickley (19 points vs. Alabama, 15 vs. Georgia) and Maxey (30 points and nine assists combined in the two wins) swept Southeastern Conference honors for the week as the Player of the Week (Quickley) and Freshman of the Week (Maxey).
But it was Hagans who was just a rebound and assist short of a triple-double with 15 points, nine boards and nine assists against Alabama.
“I think Ashton’s the best point guard in the country,” Calipari said.
–Field Level Media