The keys to victory: South Carolina

The No. 17/15 Kentucky Wildcats (21-7, 11-4 Southeastern Conference) travel to Columbia, S.C., to take on the Gamecocks (10-18, 3-12 SEC) in an SEC contest the Cats must have.

Introducing the South Carolina Gamecocks

The Coach – Frank Martin is in his second season as the head coach in Columbia after spending five years at Kansas State where he followed Bob Huggins. Martin is 141-90 (.610 winning percentage) overall in his career, and 24-36 at South Carolina.

The Players – A very young team, South Carolina’s lone senior contributor happens to be its most productive player. Senior guard Brenton Williams is the team’s leading scorer at 14.7 points per game as well as being the SEC’s top 3-point shooter, connecting on 77 of 177 shots from distance on the year (43.5 percent). Primarily a shooter who will occasionally drive the ball, when Williams gets to the line he makes the most of the easy scoring opportunity by making a league-leading 95.6 percent of his free-throw attempts (87-91). The Gamecocks’ second-leading scorer is 6-5 freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell, who puts up 13.5 points per night. Thornwell is a good rebounding guard, also, snagging 4.0 boards per contest. He’s the squads top assist man with 82 dimes on the year (2.9 per game).

Another young Gamecock guard is 6-2 freshman Duane Notice, who scores 7.5 points per game. He’s handed out 80 assists, second on the team. Not a dangerous 3-point threat, Notice has made 12 of 41 shots from beyond the arc this season.

Michael Carrera, a 6-5 sophomore forward, is the team’s top board man, corralling 5.7 rebounds per contest. Carrera averages 6.4 points and 1.0 blocks per game. The other productive big man South Carolina boasts is 6-7 sophomore forward Mindaugas Kacinas, who, in 22.8 minutes of action, averages 5.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

The basics

What: No. 17/15 Kentucky (21-7, 11-4 SEC) at South Carolina (10-18, 3-12 SEC)
When: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
Where: Colonial Life Arena (18,000) in Columbia, S.C.
Game notes: UK | South Carolina
Game preview: No turning back, Cats say they must move forward

TV/Radio coverage

Radio:  UK IMG
Satellite radio: XM 91; Sirius 91
Online audio: All-access
Live stream: WatchESPN
Live stats: Gametracker
Live blog:

South Carolina

Record: 10-18, 3-12 in the SEC
Head coach: Frank Martin (24-36 at South Carolina)
Ranking: N/A
Nickname: Gamecocks
Player to watch: Sindarius Thornwell (13.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists per game)
Series history: UK leads 47-10
Last meeting: UK won 77-55 on Feb. 5, 2013

The Schedule – South Carolina is 10-18 on the season and 3-12 in league play. The Gamecocks’ trio of SEC victories were over Texas A&M, 80-52, Vanderbilt, 65-59, and Alabama, 67-66. Some of Carolina’s losses include setbacks to Baylor, 66-64, Oklahoma State, 79-52, Boise State, 80-54, Ole Miss – twice – in Oxford, 75-71, and in Columbia, 75-74, Missouri, 82-74, and Arkansas, 71-64.

Three Keys

1. Shooting/shot selection – Over the last two games, Kentucky has connected on only 37.8 percent of its field-goal attempts. Breaking down that number further, from 3-point distance UK has made 4 of 20 shots (20.0 percent), and inside the arc the Cats have struggled as well, going 50 of 123 (40.7 percent). In UK’s loss to Arkansas, the team shot 34.2 percent from the floor, but take away Willie Cauley-Stein’s dunk-filled 8-for-12 performance and the remaining Wildcats shot 28.1 percent. UK had several misses at the rim on Thursday, something uncharacteristic for a team full of finishers.

2. Take better care of the ball – Over the last four games, in which UK has two home losses, the Cats are averaging 15 turnovers per game — with most of those miscues being unforced. With the squad being so young, turnovers can be expected, but UK must show improvement in the decision-making department if the Cats expect to continue to improve and possibly make a deep NCAA tourney run. And with only three regular-season games left on the schedule, Saturday is the time to begin to put to rest questionable ball-handling decisions.

3. Pressure the perimeter – Coach Calipari’s defensive game plan going into the Arkansas game was to make the Razorback shooter drive the basketball; don’t allow the shooters to get off the shot via ball pressure. Arkansas responded to the UK pressure by making 7 of 17 shots from distance (36.6 percent).

On Saturday, the Wildcats must do a better job on the SEC’s top 3-point threat, Brenton Williams. Kentucky will have a significant size advantage over the diminutive Williams, and forcing him to dish or drive would seem to be the logical defensive plan. Kentucky, though, must execute more efficiently when defending the perimeter than they did against the Razorbacks.

Williams and 6-foot freshman guard Jaylen Shaw are both sharpshooters – Shaw has been true on 42.9 percent of his 3-point attempts – providing South Carolina with its best shot at upsetting the Cats. Allow either of these players open looks and their confidence will elevate, increasing the chance that one of the two gets into a shooting rhythm. And when a great 3-point shooter is “feeling it,” the crowd becomes a factor and an already difficult road game becomes a big-time battle.

Key Matchup

UK vs. the past – Over the last five games, UK has played inconsistently on the offensive end of the floor, connecting on 40.3 percent of its overall shots and 33.3 percent of its 3-point attempts. But perhaps most frustrating, Kentucky has made only 42.2 percent of its shots from inside the arc.

Recently the Cats, particularly the guards, have made dubious decisions as far as shot selection is concerned, resulting in a low-make percentage. It’s these decisions which have UK in an offensive funk for the first time this season.

Many times, though, the best thing a team can do, especially a young team, is to put mistakes, miscues and losses behind them. This Kentucky team is comprised of players who have experienced nothing but great success in their athletic careers, and dealing with adversity is sometimes a new sensation and dealing with losing is a foreign concept.

The best way for this team to deal with its struggles is to go on to the next play (as Coach Cal recently said), and in this case, go on to the next game. Miss a shot? Next. Turn the ball over? Next. Lose two of three games? Next.

These Cats have to understand this: Don’t allow previous failures to get in the way of success. Conquer the temptation to look in the rearview mirror (over-analyzing mistakes), and the most important battle on the path to success has been won.

Trends (over the last five games)

  • James Young – 8 of 25 from distance (32.0 percent), 25 of 61 overall field-goal shooting (41.0 percent), 17 of 36 from inside the arc (47.2 percent) and 14.0 points per game.
  • Aaron Harrison – 5 of 15 from long range (33.3 percent), 18-of-55 field-goal shooting (32.7 percent), 13 of 40 from inside the arc (32.5 percent) and 11.8 points per game.
  • Andrew Harrison – 4 for 14 from beyond the arc (28.6 percent), 19-of-56 field-goal shooting (33.9 percent), 15 of 42 from inside the arc (35.7 percent) and 13.8 points per game.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein – 15-of-26 field-goal shooting (57.7 percent), 7.6 points per game.
  • Alex Poythress – 6-of-16 field-goal shooting (37.5 percent), 5 for 13 from inside the arc (38.5 percent), 3.6 points per game.
  • Julius Randle – 23-of-45 field-goal shooting (51.1 percent), 14.4 points per game.
  • Dakari Johnson – 7-of-21 field-goal shooting (33.3 percent), 3.4 points per game.

Team stats

UK South Carolina
Scoring offense 77.8 (33) 69.4 (226)
Scoring defense 67.0 (91) 71.1 (208)
FG percentage 46.2 (76) 42.2 (278)
FG percentage defense 39.7 (25) 44.3 (203)
3-point percentage 32.1 (287) 36.8 (77)
3-point percentage defense 30.4 (31) 32.9 (99)
FT percentage 68.0 (229) 70.4 (158)
Rebound margin +9.9 (2) +2.8 (100)
Steals per game 4.8 (308) 6.3 (147)
Blocks per game 6.4 (7) 3.9 (137)
Assists per game 11.6 (258) 12.5 (199)
Turnover margin -1.1 (255) -0.8 (242) adjusted offensive efficiency rank 18 147 adjusted defensive efficiency rank 31 165

*national rankings in parentheses

Individual leaders

UK South Carolina
Points per game Julius Randle (15.7) Brenton Williams (14.7)
Rebounds per game Julius Randle (10.3) Michael Carrera (5.7)
Field-goal percentage Willie Cauley-Stein (60.3) Laimonas Chatkevicius (61.4)
3-point percentage Andrew Harrison (35.8) Brenton Williams (43.5)
Free-throw percentage Aaron Harrison (80.3) Brenton Williams (95.6)
Assists per game Andrew Harrison (3.5) Sindari Thornwell (2.9)
Blocks per game Willie Cauley-Stein (3.0) Michael Carrera (1.0)
Steals per game Aaron Harrison (1.2) Sindari Thornwell (1.1)


The Wrap-up

Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. with television provided by ESPN. Stay tuned to for complete pre-, in- and postgame coverage as the Cats try to right the ship on the road.