Widely picked to place sixth in the SEC East, Darrin Horn’s South Carolina Gamecocks are currently sitting in the cat-birds seat at 3-1 in league play, and 12-5 overall. Perhaps the most positive surprise in the conference, the Gamecocks have ridden the steady play of freshman point guard Bruce Ellington to wins on the road at Florida, as well as home court victories over Vanderbilt and Arkansas.
The personnel losses Horn endured after his second season in Columbia — All-SEC guard Devan Downey (22.5 points per game), along with experienced shooting guard Brandis Raley-Ross (10.6 ppg), and key backups Austin Steed and Evaldas Baniulis — seemed on the surface to cause lowered expectations for SC on 2011, but the surprisingly strong play of Ellington (a team leading 14.9 ppg; 3.6 assists per game), and sophomore two-guard Ramon Galloway (10.3 ppg, 38.4% three-point shooting), sophomore swing Lakeem Jackson (9.6 pg, 6.3 rebounds per game), and Malik Cooke (8.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg), a junior, have propelled Carolina into contender status.
Not especially long, with senior banger Sam Muldrow at 6-9 (10.1 ppg; 7.0 rpg, 3.5 blocks per game) and 6-9 freshman reserve Damontre Harris (3.3 rpg in 14.1 minutes of action) being the tallest players who see meaningful minutes, the Gamecocks win with athleticism, hitting the offensive glass (which is how SC beat the #1 ranked ‘Cats last year in Columbia), and playing tough paint defense (6.8 blocks per contest, good for 2nd in the nation: 9.0 bpg in SEC play).
Horn also has his freshman point guard Ellington (#52 player in the nation by Rivals; recruited by Kansas, Tennessee, and Georgia Tech among others) pushing the ball up the floor to compensate for his team’s lack of front court bulk, leading the SEC with 71.5 possessions per game.
If Kentucky (14-4, 2-2) is to win today, they must once again handle a geeked to the gills Columbia crowd, hit the boards with abandon, and be selective with their shots, something UK has struggled to do in road losses to Georgia and Alabama.
South Carolina Tidbits
Over their last three games, SC has made only 20-62 (32.3%) of their three-point shots … Over the last four games, SC has not made over 44.3% of their shots from the floor, in any one contest … In Boston College’s victory over SC, the Eagles made 13-32 (40.6%) of their long-range shots … In five of their last six games, SC has not made over 68% of their free throws in any one game … Ellington makes only 37.7% of his field goal attempts, but has made 39-97 trey tries on the year (40.2%) … The 5-9 Ellington also averages an impressive 3.6 rebounds per game (Horn as made habit of getting strong rebound production out of his guards) … 6-9 freshman forward Damontre Harris likes to step out and take the three, and he does so effectively, having made 23-39 on the year (59.0%) … Horn plays 10 Gamecocks at least 10 minutes per game.
John Calipari On …
… if he’s concerned about what his team will give him energy level-wise on the road compared to what it has been like the last two times in the SEC:
“Again, it’s a young team going on the road and you’re counting on freshmen, and we’re expecting a lot and demanding a lot out of those guys. It’s hard, and I’ve got to get on two juniors and a senior to do more. They’ve got to be a big part of what we’re doing at the end of these games. They’re the veteran guys; two juniors and a senior. Part of it is that. ‘Let’s go, what are you three doing when the game is on the line? What are you giving us?’”
Cal continues …
On what specifically he would like to see senior forward Josh Harrellson and junior guards Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins do at the end of games:
“Make plays, make a block, get a ball, grab a rebound, dive on the floor, take a charge. Do something. ‘What are you doing to help us win?’ Or are we sitting there saying, ‘Let’s hope one of these freshmen make a play.'”
Terrence Jones –Jones is 5-25 from the field over the last two games (20.0%) … Jones is 0-4 from beyond the arc in the last two games, after making 6-10 over the previous two-game stretch … TJ has made 18 of 24 free throws over the last two games (75.0%) … He recorded two assists versus Bama last time out, his first assist in four games.
Brandon Knight — Knight has made 11-22 three-pointers over the last three games (50.0%) … He has recorded 18 assists and nine turnovers in the last five games (3.6 assists pg/1.8 turnovers pg) … The Florida freshman has taken only three free throws in the last four games … BK has five steals in the last two games (2.5 spg), after recording only nine steals through the first 16 contests (.6 spg).
Doron Lamb — Since earning a starting nod three games ago, Lamb has dished out a team-leading 14 assists (4.7 apg) … In the last eight games, Lamb has made 17-19 free throws (89.5%) … Since making 6-11 shots versus Louisville, Lamb has made only 19-46 overall shots (41.3%); in the same timespan, he has made 9-24 threes (37.5%) … Lamb averages .7 steals per game on the year, but in the last four games he’s pilfered possession six times (1.5 spg).
Darius Miller — Miller has taken only two free throws in the last five games … The Mason County alum has made 12-19 overall shots in the last two games (63.2%) … Miller, for the first time in his career, has scored in double-digits three games in a row, averaging 12.3 points in the three-game stretch … Will he make it four in a row today?
DeAndre Liggins — Ligs has recorded two rebounds in his last 63 minutes played, covering two games … In the last four games, Liggins is averaging 2.0 rpg, after averaging 4.4 boards per game through is first 14 games of the year.
Josh Harrellson — The big fella has made only 2-12 shots over the last two games (16.7%) … After snagging only four rebounds against Auburn, Harrellson has grabbed 23 boards (10 offensive) in his last 45 minutes of action, covering two games (11.5 rpg) … Harrellson has swatted eight shots in the last three games (2.7 bpg).
Eloy Vargas — After averaging 11.7 minutes per game through the first 12 games of the season, Vargas has averaged playing only 7.0 mpg in the last six games.
Big, big game for the ‘Cats — Game time 6:00 EST on ESPN!
Ken’s Cats Corner: Alabama Preview