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Rewind: Defense fuels Cats' rout

Feb. 5, 2013
Rupp Arena; Lexington, Ky.

Jarrod Polson hounded a South Carolina player during the Cats' 77-55 win (Darrell Bird/TCP)

Kentucky continues to gain steam, even if it sometimes comes in fits and starts.

The Cats won for the sixth time in seven outings, shrugging off one poor stretch in the first half on the way to a 77-55 rout of South Carolina at Rupp Arena. The victory, coupled with Florida's loss at Arkansas, moved Kentucky within a game of the first-place Gators in the SEC.

Fueled by defense and transition points, the Cats blew open a close game by outscoring the Gamecocks 28-6 over the final 10 minutes of the first half, bringing the crowd to its feet with a flurry of blocked shots and dunks.

Kentucky shot 61.4 percent from the field, the highest mark since converting 67.7 percent against LIU-Brooklyn on Nov, 23, and held South Carolina to just 28.8 percent for the game. Julius Mays led Kentucky with 15 points, while Nerlens Noel added 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.

On still wanting more from his team:
“We shoot 60 percent, hold them to 28 percent and I'm not totally happy. I must be a jerk. I've been called worse, by the way.”

On whether he thinks about having won NCAA title last season:
“Look, my concerns are these players. I want them to have the great joy that my other teams have had late in the year. The joy of, 'I'm not about me and how I feel.' It's about how you are to your teammates...The joy you get from that, the joy you get from coming together and doing something unique and special. I want this team to feel that joy, and that's why I get frustrated at times.”

“I've been in Rupp Arena a handful of times as a fan watching former players that played here at Kentucky. I can tell you, I never thought I'd see the day where the opposing team put the crowd to sleep. We did a heck of a job with putting everyone to sleep in there.” – South Carolina coach Frank Martin

“Our guys completely broke away from the discipline we try to instill and then basically got out of the way every possession so they could practice their dunking. It was pretty good.” – Martin

“I think we still have a long way to go actually because not every game every player shows up. Once we have a game where everybody shows up it's going to be scary, you know?” – UK guard Ryan Harrow, on how close the Cats are to their potential

Willie Cauley-Stein didn't look like a young man who had a surgical procedure performed on his knee just 18 days earlier, galloping up and down the court with a grace atypical for seven-footers. The freshman forward didn't have the most jaw dropping statistical game for Kentucky but the effort and fluidity he showed in scoring 13 points, hauling in six rebounds and blocking a pair of shots in 22 minutes was impressive given he missed four games before returning for just a few minutes over the weekend at Texas A&M. Cauley-Stein earned coach John Calipari's praise after the game for what the coach termed the 'unbelievable' effort and energy he provided.

After rushing out to a quick 11-2 lead the Cats suddenly found themselves trailing 18-17 after turning the ball over five times in the span of six possessions. Calipari called a timeout to voice his displeasure, which helped ignite a 28-6 spurt to end the first half and out the game away. During that span the Cats held South Carolina to 2-of-14 from the field and forced four turnovers after the Gamecocks had not given the ball away once in the game's first 10 minutes.

In his media availability the day before the game Calipari lamented the recent play of Ryan Harrow, curtly answering a question about what might be going on with the enigmatic point guard with a simple, 'I don't know.' Harrow put some of those concerns to rest with one of his best games, making all six of his field goal attempts while scoring 12 points and handing out four assists against just one turnover. The sophomore looked much more at ease and played at a pace that suggested he was back to feeling confident about his game instead of the unsure floor general he at times appeared to be in his past four games.

28.8 – Kentucky's defense went to work early and often against the Gamecocks, ultimately suffocating them into shooting just 28.8 percent from the field. It was the second-lowest percentage of the season for South Carolina and the fourth time Kentucky has held an opponent under 30 percent in a game, albeit the first time in SEC play. With the effort UK lowered their opponents' overall field goal percentage in league play to 37.8 percent and made it six consecutive outings at under 40 percent for its foes.

By surviving its stretch of four road games in five outings with a 4-1 record the Cats set themselves up to make a run at conference top dog Florida in the second half of the conference schedule, but much of that also depended on taking care of business at home against South Carolina and Auburn. Part one of that is complete with the handcuffing of the Gamecocks, which became even more important as Florida got smoked at Arkansas. Despite not having played anywhere near their best basketball Kentucky is right where John Calipari wanted it to be at this point in terms of having a chance to make noise the final month.

Kentucky (16-6, 7-2) will host Auburn at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9. The Cats defeated the Tigers 75-53 in Auburn on Jan. 19.

  • UK with the IMO the best defensive player in the country in Noel has improved its team defense dramatically especially over the past few games. With Nerlens leading the way I think Harrow has also improved his defensive ability also lately. Goodwin seems to have his share of blocked shots as a guard. I noticed tonight that WCS played great help defense fading over to help his teammates out when their man was pushing the ball toward the hoop. Wiltjer I think has taken a big step forward in terms of his entire game including rebounding. This team will surely be tested when they travel to Gainesville but if they continue to improve their team defense they may give themselves a chance to pull a big upset and gain in the rankings and the eyes of the selection committee. GO CATS

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