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Wall-Downey showdown matches up nation's premier guards

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downey-wall-graphic.jpgJohn Wall is supposed to be the best point guard in the nation, but he might not even be the best scoring guard in his own conference.

For all the buildup the 6-foot-4 guard from Kentucky gets, one need look no further than mini 5-foot-9 guard from South Carolina to find a better pure scorer than senior guard Devan Downey.

Who is the better overall player? That might be the determining factor in Tuesday's matchup in Columbia, S.C. when Kentucky, now the nation's top-ranked team and only undefeated squad in the nation, takes on South Carolina at 9 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena, where the Cats were blitzed 77-59 last year.

The graduation of Zam Fredrick and the season-ending injury to Dominique Archie has made this year's Gamecock team a much different one than that of last year's UK drubbing. Now when one thinks of South Carolina, the buck stops (and starts) with the lightning-quick guard from Chester, S.C.

"I think Devan Downey," Wall said. "Their team is more than Devan Downey but that's their go-to player. He can make a lot of baskets, he can shoot it, he can get to the basket and he's scrappy. You think of Devan Downey first."

Although Tuesday night's game could come down to much more than just Wall and Downey - for instance, UK has a sizeable depth and height advantage in the paint - it will be billed as a showdown of the league's two top guards.

"When you talk about the ability to get whatever shot you want, the ability to change the complexion of the game and get to that rim, it takes away certain things you want to do defensively," UK head coach John Calipari said of Downey. "John is just learning. Devan is more of an experienced player and understands the league better, but John is a talented kid, too."

Wall, already a heavy favorite to collect hardware for National Player of the Year honors, is averaging a team-high 17.0 points, 6.9 assists and 3.7 rebounds a game for the No. 1 team in the nation. Downey, meanwhile, in his fourth and final season in the garnet and black, is scoring a league-best 21.9 points per game.

In conference play alone, Downey is averaging a healthy 31.6 points a game. He's taken 27.7 percent of the shots for the Gamecocks and is the only established offensive presence on a team plagued with a lack of scoring options.

Against Florida on Saturday, he nearly pulled off a heroic late-game runner when he raced the length of the floor, split four defenders on the sideline - albeit with a double dribble - and leaned in the lane to bank in the game-tying shot.

Florida's Chandler Parsons spoiled Downey's game-high 36 points with heart-dropping 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it hardly overshadowed the will of Downey.

"I watched him the last game where they played Florida," Wall said. "He was lighting them up."

What Downey lacks in size - his official measurements are 5-9, 170 pounds - he makes up for in heart. He's been through three coaches - not even including the one (Bob Huggins) that initially recruited him at Cincinnati - a transfer, two NCAA Tournament snubs and a host of pressure to will his team to the Big Dance after the loss of Archie.

He's responded by leading his team in scoring and assists the past three seasons.

"We know he is the number one factor on that team so when he is on the court it is going to take a total team effort and all five of us to stop him," said junior forward Patrick Patterson, who vividly remembers Downey's  game-winning step-back jumper over Jodie Meeks in the final seconds at Rupp Arena last year.

Florida's Billy Donovan decided to throw multiple defenders at Downey over the weekend to counter his scoring, but it hardly mattered in Gainesville, Fla.

Calipari said he'll use multiple guys on Downey, including a possible zone to keep the speedy guard from penetrating. However, there's little doubt that Wall will get his shot at Downey in a matchup of quite possibly the two most fleet-footed guards in the country.

Wall said he doesn't take the notion that Downey may be the SEC's best personally and even admitted that Downey's height - or lack thereof - might cause problems for him.

"It's a bad thing for me," Wall said. "That's too low to get down and guard him."

For all the attention Wall gets, Calipari believes Tuesday's primetime showdown will hinge on the Gamecocks' supporting cast.

"(Downey's) going to get his," Calipari said. "You know he will. He's going to take his shots. He can score in a multitude of ways. He can get to the foul line, he breaks down their press. What you don't want him to do is make everyone on the floor 10 times better, too."

Because if South Carolina can figure out how to get some of its other offensive weapons involved - only one other current South Carolina player (Brandis Raley Ross) averages double figures (10.1 ppg) - the Gamecocks could reestablish themselves in the NCAA Tournament hunt.

"It's a matter of other guys giving us a little more," South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said. "Devan's doing what he's doing because he can but we need everybody collectively to give us a little bit more."

Kentucky would be content if South Carolina figured out how to do that after Tuesday night. An undefeated record and now No. 1 ranking may depend on it.

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Downey did not double dribble. Florida claimed he did, but if you watch the tape, he spun around and kept his dribble, without even switching hands! Not only that, but he was fouled; Parsons even admitted it.

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  • Britishgmcck: Downey did not double dribble. Florida claimed he did, but if you watch the tape, he spun around and kept read more