Kentucky Claims SEC Opener 79-64 over South Carolina
Jan. 7, 2012
Jones hit his first eight shots and finished with 20 points in his best game since dislocating a finger, and the second-ranked Wildcats beat South Carolina 79-64 on Saturday in the SEC opener for both teams.
The Wildcats (15-1, 1-0) have won seven straight and came in as the preseason favorite to win the conference for the 45th time. They used an 11-0 run to end the first half and take a comfortable lead.
Marquis Teague scored 17 points, while Davis had 12 points and 10 rebounds for his fifth straight double-double. Davis also had seven blocks and two steals.
"I've never seen a kid do what he can do," South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said. "He gets a double-double every night because of his athleticism."
It was the third loss this season for South Carolina (8-7, 0-1) against a team ranked No. 1 or No. 2 after previous setbacks to North Carolina and Ohio State.
Freshman Damien Leonard scored 15 points as the Gamecocks' four-game winning streak ended.
Jones is returning to form after he dislocated the pinky finger on his shooting hand - his left - on Dec. 17 against Chattanooga. He missed two games after the injury and had a combined 21 points over the next three before breaking out Saturday. His only miss from the field came with 40 seconds left.
"When my finger got hurt, I feel my confidence got shot just because I didn't want to be aggressive because of the pain and the problems I was having with that," Jones said. "It just happened at the wrong time."
Kentucky doubled up the Gamecocks 36-18 when Jones scored on the first possession of the second half and the Wildcats took their first 20-point lead - 41-21 - on a 3 by Doron Lamb.
While South Carolina struggled at times against Kentucky's full-court press, Teague and the Wildcats used their athleticism to easily break the Gamecocks' pressure and finish at the rim, including when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist set up an alley-oop for Davis.
"We're hard to press, every guy can handle it, and we've got Spiderman under the basket that you can't leave," Calipari said.
The Gamecocks cut it to 62-50 on Leonard's jumper with 7:40 left, but Kentucky answered with an 8-0 run to seal it.
South Carolina's Malik Cooke scored 11 points, while Anthony Gill and Damontre Harris had 10 apiece. Lamb had 10 points for the Wildcats.
Kentucky has won four straight in the series since losing in Columbia when the Wildcats were ranked No. 1 two seasons ago.
South Carolina cut it 21-17 on Gill's jumper with 5:01 left in the first, but the Gamecocks failed to hit another field goal the rest of the half. Kentucky closed on an 11-0 run to lead 34-18 at the break.
In one sequence, Jones hit a 3 from the left wing and Kidd-Gilchrist helped force a turnover from Leonard and popped up to ask the Rupp Arena crowd for more noise.
On the final play of the half, Teague couldn't set up a play and shook off a screen to drive into the paint, where he missed a contested layup. Davis was right there to clean up the miss, finishing with a slam and leaving the court to a standing ovation.
"It gave them a big momentum shift," Gamecocks guard Bruce Ellington said. "We knew it was a big run."
Davis' seven blocks gives him 74 for the season, sixth on the school's single-season list with half a season to play.
Ellington, a two-sport star, scored a touchdown in South Carolina's 54-3 rout of Kentucky on Oct. 8, but had no such luck against Kentucky's much stiffer defense on the court. He missed all seven of his first-half shots and finished with eight points.
"I don't know that they were bad shots, but they were bad shots for the time when we were trying to finish the half," Horn said.
The Gamecocks haven't won on the road against an opponent ranked fifth or higher since beating then-No. 3 Kentucky on March 2, 1997.
"Well, now we know we can score against anybody and play with anybody," Leonard said. "We'll build on this."