South Carolina validated its strong start with a 79-62 upset win over No. 6 Kentucky on Tuesday as the Gamecocks handed the Wildcats their second straight road loss. Fans at Colonial Life Arena stormed the court in celebration of the Gamecocks’ highest-ranked home win since taking down No. 1 Kentucky in 2010.
It was South Carolina’s second straight win over the Wildcats and the first victory over a top-25 team for second-year Gamecocks coach Lamont Paris. The program has never beaten a top-10 opponent by more.
Ta’Lon Cooper led South Carolina (16-3, 4-2 SEC) with 20 points while Meechie Johnson and Jordan Wright each added 14. The Gamecocks built their lead to as much as 20 in the second half as the Wildcats (14-4, 4-2) struggled defensively. Robert Dillingham led UK with 16 points.
After making 9 of 18 attempts from 3-point range in a 77-64 win at Arkansas on Saturday, South Carolina stayed hot from beyond the arc. The Gamecocks hit 11 of 24 from 3-point range against UK, which countered with an uncharacteristically poor shooting performance.
The Wildcats entered ranked No. 6 nationally in 3-point percentage at 40.2% and No. 14 in makes per game at 10.3. But they hit only 4 of 13 against South Carolina as the Gamecocks extended their defense and frustrated a Kentucky team that put up 105 points against Georgia on Saturday.
Kentucky returns to action Saturday at Arkansas while South Carolina will host Missouri.
South Carolina makes a statement
South Carolina was picked to finish last in the SEC and has made only one NCAA Tournament in the past 20 years. But just six games into the 18-game SEC slate, the Gamecocks have already matched their league win total from last season and are trending toward making the Big Dance. Entering Tuesday, South Carolina was projected as a No. 9 seed, according to CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm. But the resume was still relatively light. Beating Kentucky, which counts as South Carolina’s second Quad 1 win, brings some insulation from the bubble for the time being.
Big Z returns to Earth
Kentucky freshman Zvonimir Ivišić made a stunning debut on Saturday, scoring 13 points on 5 of 7 shooting after finally receiving eligibility clearance from the NCAA. But the hype train surrounding Big Z hit a quick snag against the Gamecocks. The 7-foot-2 Croatian logged just 10 minutes, scoring three points on 1 of 3 shooting while committing three fouls. South Carolina outscored Kentucky by 13 when Ivišić was on the floor as he got his first taste of a hostile college basketball environment.
If Kentucky is going to realize the full potential of its talent, it must improve defensively. All 10 major conference opponents Kentucky has played have scored 73 points or more. Following Tuesday’s loss, the Wildcats fell to No. 95 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com. By contrast, Tennessee and Auburn, who are the Wildcats top competitors in the SEC title race, rank No. 2 and No. 7 in the same metric. In fact, UK’s spot at No. 95 ranked 10th in the SEC, pending the conclusion of Wednesday’s games.