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Video: Coach Cal on UK's win at South Carolina

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Video: Ulis, Booker on UK's win at South Carolina

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Devin Booker scored 18 points in UK's 58-43 win over South Carolina on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Devin Booker scored 18 points in UK's 58-43 win over South Carolina on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It reads like a recipe for road defeat in the Southeastern Conference.

Not only did Kentucky manage just three offensive rebounds - nearly 12 below its season average - the Wildcats also went more than 10 minutes in the second half without a made field goal.

Unbeaten season over, right? Wrong.

The way UK was defending at South Carolina on Saturday, it was going to take more than that for the Cats to suffer their first loss.

"It was pretty good," John Calipari said of his team's second-half defense.

UK, only furthering its record-setting defensive pace, held South Carolina to 4-of-23 shooting after halftime. The Gamecocks didn't hit a shot until the 15:12 mark of the second half, meaning they had a field-goal drought of more than nine minutes going back to the first half. Before the game ended with a 58-43 win for No. 1 UK (19-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference), South Carolina (10-8, 1-5 SEC) would also have droughts of 6:16 and 5:55.

Incredible as it may be, it makes sense then that the Cats actually outscored South Carolina by a point during their more than 10 minutes without a field goal thanks to 11 made free throws in 12 attempts.

"Well, they were playing rough ball, you know fouling a lot, so we were just trying to get into the offense," Tyler Ulis said. "It was kinda hard to get into a flow with all the fouls called, but I feel like we executed well, we just were at the line more than we usually are."

Thanks to all those fouls and the lack of second chances, UK attempted only four field goals during the drought, suggesting the Cats weren't actually all that inefficient on offense anyway.

"We end up shooting 46 percent and the greatest thing for me is we had eight turnovers," Calipari said. "That's probably a couple less than I'd like, but it just shows you that we're a team that can play. You can play us physical and we can still do the stuff we're trying to do."

Devin Booker certainly wasn't affected negatively by the physical play.

The freshman guard continued his shooting surge of the last month and a half with two made 3s, but matched it with a burgeoning off-the-bounce game. He scored a game-high 18 points and needed only 26 minutes and nine shots to do it.

"I think me going on this little streak opened it up, 'cause now teams know they have to play closer to me," Booker said. "So I use a head-fake and one or two dribbles and get other people involved."

Booker has a ways to go to match Ulis, his classmate and close friend, in involving teammates. Ulis scored only six points, but had six assists and no turnovers.

With the two freshmen playing well in Colonial Life Arena, a place where UK famously lost in both 2010 and 2014, they're showing no signs of trouble dealing with the rigors of facing big road crowds in SEC play.

"I feel like we're both confident in our games and we just come here and take it like another game," Ulis said. "We love the crowd's reaction to us, the boos and stuff like that, so it's really not a lot of pressure on us. We just come out to play."

As good as Ulis and Booker were offensively, the story remains Kentucky's defense, as has been the case for really the entire season. UK had nine blocks as a team - four by Marcus Lee - and eight steals, holding the Gamecocks to a paltry 0.741 points per possession. In doing so, the Cats lowered their season average to 0.772 points per possession allowed, best in the nation and in the 14 seasons has tracked the statistic.

"It just goes with our team concept -- shutting teams out -- and that's what we try to do," Booker said.

UK surely won't ever pitch a shutout, though there are times it doesn't seem impossible, but that won't stop the Cats from trying. That's why Coach Cal had to issue a mea culpa to his team for a late-game coaching decision.

Around the 13-minute mark of the first half, Coach Cal opted to use a 2-3 zone for the first time during meaningful minutes this season. UK played well in it, but Aaron Harrison - who scored 13 points - committed a foul with seconds left on the shot clock.

A little more than six minutes later, heeding counsel from an unnamed assistant, he went back to it with South Carolina in the midst of one of its long field-goal droughts. Justin McKie promptly made the Cats pay from outside.

"They made a 3 and I apologized to the team," Calipari said.

The apology came because Kentucky has spent months establishing its identity as a team that suffocates opponents with a man-to-man defense, not changing based on a scouting report or an opponent's personnel.

"That's not what we do here," Calipari said.

Calipari already knew that, but Saturday served to reinforce it.

Video: Highlights from UK's win at South Carolina

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Andrew Harrison and Kentucky travel to face South Carolina on Saturday. (Bob Leverone, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison and Kentucky travel to face South Carolina on Saturday. (Bob Leverone, UK Athletics)
How things have changed.

In early March of last year, Kentucky had suffered back-to-back losses and sat at 21-8. The second of the two was the most disappointing of the season, as the Wildcats fell behind by as many as 16 points en route to a 72-67 loss at South Carolina.

"I remember we lost," Andrew Harrison said. "It was tough. They were a very good team last year, but we didn't play as well as we should have."

The other Harrison twin, Aaron, would of course say after the loss that the remainder of the season would be "a great story," a promise that drew skepticism at the time only to prove prophetic.

Eleven months later, UK has lost just three games in 29 tries, two to top-ranked Florida and one in the national championship. The Cats, after falling just shy of the title, were back as the preseason No. 1 for 2014-15 and haven't lost since, running their record to 18-0 and reigniting the unbeaten talk that started the previous season.

Now they return to Columbia, S.C. But as much as things have changed, one thing remains the same.

"If we go down there and play like we did last year we'll lose again," Andrew Harrison said.

Last season, in spite of a 14-20 record, South Carolina was able to point to that late-season win over Kentucky as proof the Gamecocks were improving under Frank Martin. In his third season, South Carolina (10-7, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) is offering further proof ahead of Saturday's noon matchup with the Cats (18-0, 5-0 SEC).

"They take on Frank's personality," John Calipari said. "They're balling."

South Carolina has gotten off to a slow start in conference play, dropping four games and three by four points or fewer, but the Gamecocks still check in at No. 48 in's ratings, up almost 70 spots from a season ago. They have wins over Oklahoma State (by 26 points) and Iowa State from the powerhouse Big 12 on the strength of a defense that ranks 22nd nationally in points per possession allowed (0.906).

"They come right at you," Calipari said. "If you drive, you've got three guys running. As you run at them, they run at you. Frank, the one thing I've got to tell you as I watch his team - it's a great concept - they'll pressure you all over the place and deny wings."

The Gamecocks excel at contesting shots and forcing miscues, ranking in the top 40 nationally in both effective field-goal percentage defense and defensive turnover percentage. The Cats will have to respond.

"Got to be strong with the ball," Calipari said. "Got to play through bumps. You got to know that they're coming and find open men."

That's where having two of the nation's top point guards on one roster comes in handy.

UK's two-headed lead guard monster of Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis has combined to average 13 points and 7.7 assists. Both the 6-foot-6 sophomore and 5-9 freshman have had bright moments and a handful of off nights, but it's been Andrew Harrison who has more often drawn criticism.

"When it rains in Lexington, whose fault is it?" Calipari said. "Andrew's fault. There was a car accident on 75, whose fault is it? Andrew's fault. So that's just how it is right now and he has accepted it."

Not only has Andrew Harrison accepted that fact, he also takes joy in deflecting scrutiny away from his freshman teammates.

"I can take whatever anyone throws at me now," Andrew Harrison said. "I know whatever is said doesn't really matter. I've heard it all. I'm just starting to get my confidence back, and just knowing I'm the starting point guard or whatever and I can play just as well as anybody."

Andrew Harrison may be the starter, but that hasn't stopped Ulis from playing nearly 21 minutes per game, a total that's gone up in recent weeks with Calipari more often using them together. Among Coach Cal's many options, a favorite lineup of the two point guards, Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson has emerged as a possibility for close-and-late situations.

"It puts two playmakers on the court with me and Andrew," Ulis said. "Then he can play-make it to the basket. It allows him to score more because I like to pass. And you know Book with his shooting ability, and us getting in the lane and finding him, it should be hard to stop us."

South Carolina will try nonetheless, surely confident from what happened not long ago.

"You just have to play your game," Andrew Harrison said. "You can't really worry about last year. Last year was last year. Now we have to go in there for another tough game against South Carolina."

Video: Coach Cal on UK's trip to South Carolina

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Aaron Harrison scored all 14 of his points in the second half of UK's win over Vanderbilt on Tuesday night. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison scored all 14 of his points in the second half of UK's win over Vanderbilt on Tuesday night. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
John Calipari was talking about just one game, but he summed up Aaron Harrison's two seasons at Kentucky along the way.

"Aaron basically threw dagger after dagger," Coach Cal said.

Marcus Lee, speaking after Harrison's latest clutch display, did the same.

"If he's throwing it up, I'm gonna go shake hands with everybody else," Lee said.

Yet again, it was the sophomore shooting guard who sent UK (18-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) to the postgame handshake line victorious. He scored seven of the Wildcats' final nine points to seal a 65-57 win over Vanderbilt (11-7, 1-4 SEC).

"I think it's fun to be in that situation and it's fun to be the guy that people look to to take the big shot and make the big shot," Harrison said.

The big shot, on this Tuesday night, was a 3-pointer with 2:09 remaining.

The Commodores, who never wilted before a top-ranked UK team and a Rupp Arena crowd of 24,249, had just cut Kentucky's lead to four on a 3 by Matthew Fisher-Davis.

On the crucial possession, Devin Booker tried his hand at the big shot and missed from outside for just the ninth time in his last 29 tries. Harrison, however, kept the play alive with an offensive rebound, passed and drifted to the left corner, just a few feet from the wing where so many of his memorable makes have come from. The ball came to Booker, who with a small opening at another try from deep elected instead to pass on to Harrison.

Good choice.

"Devin made a great extra pass and I knew I had to make the shot and (be) ready and focused for it and knocked it down," Harrison said.

Harrison would hit two free throws in the final minute to bring his team-high scoring total to 14, a number he seemed unlikely to hit when he left the floor at halftime. At that point, he was scoreless, having taken just one shot in seven minutes as UK led 33-26.

The performance surely drew the kind of paint-peeling message you'd expect, but Coach Cal merely smiled and said he told Harrison he loved him. Harrison knew that was the sentiment behind what he heard from his coach, though those might not have been Calipari's exact words.

"I guess it's really, really, really tough love," Harrison said, drawing hearty laughs from the horde of reporters gathered around.

Whatever Calipari said, it worked. The Aaron Harrison who played the second half hardly resembled the one who was on the floor for the first 20 minutes.

"I think he played so well in the second half," Calipari said. "That's who he is."

For some, a first half like that makes a similarly poor second half a given, but not Harrison.

"I think it's just his confidence knowing that no matter what happens in the first half, the second half, he can come back and do what he needs to do," said Marcus Lee, who had six of his seven points in a flurry that sparked UK after a sluggish second-half start. "There are some players who when a couple bad things happen they just go in a hole. He knows he's good enough where he can just keep going."

Harrison kept going and carried UK down the stretch, but he was hardly alone.

His twin brother, Andrew, and Willie Cauley-Stein combined with him to score UK's final 15 points and it was the 7-footer who delivered when Vandy cut the lead to three with 5:06 left.

First, Cauley-Stein snagged one of his three steals, a familiar sight for arguably the nation's top defender. But on the other end of the floor, he showed something new. Receiving a pass a few feet inside the 3-point arc on the left wing, Cauley-Stein didn't hesitate in taking and making a jumper that prompted a double-take from even his coach.

"Willie did what Willie does," Calipari said. "Then he took that jumper and I know we all looked at each other like what in the world. But he's been practicing that. That's something that he's been working on."

Aaron Harrison, meanwhile, was happy to share the big-shot spotlight.

"I was really proud of Willie for even taking that shot because I know last year he wouldn't have even taken than shot," Aaron Harrison said. "So just to see him have the confidence to take that shot and make that shot, I'm excited for him and happy for him."

Cauley-Stein might not have been the likeliest suspect to make a clutch jumper, but you can now add him to the list of players capable of delivering a basket when it matters most.

That list, it's a long one.

"I don't think we have just one guy for that," Lee said. "I think we have a whole team that can do that. They're all complete finishers and have done that their whole lives. It just comes out natural."

Video: Highlights from UK's win over Vandy

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