UK Basketball: Wildcats ready to begin second season in SEC opener against South Carolina
Kentucky¿s Anthony Davis, dunking in the second half against Louisville on Dec. 31, has 67 of UK¿s NCAA-leading 141 blocked shots and is averaging 10.6 rebounds per game going into Saturday¿s Southeastern Conference opener against South Carolina. (Clay Jackson)
“In terms of Kentucky, I¿am not so sure this is not the most talented team he has had. They are extremely athletic,” said Horn, who is a Lexington Tates Creek High School and Western Kentucky University graduate. “They are putting up a ton of points, but even more impressive is how they are defending.
“(Anthony) Davis is a complete game changer (with his blocked shots). What has been a big challenge for anybody that has played them, and I¿know it will be for us, is handling their defensive presence and trying to score the basketball and not just stopping them (from scoring).”
The Gamecocks have won four straight games and after a 2-5 start are 8-6 going into the Southeastern Conference opener at No. 2 Kentucky (14-1). The Gamecocks only loss in the last seven games was an eight-point loss at home to then No. 2 Ohio State.
South Carolina’s opponents are shooting 38.4 percent from 3-point range and the Gamecocks did not have an interior player averaging more than five rebounds per game.
South Carolina beat South Carolina State 79-51 Tuesday when Malik Cooke, who averages 13.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, and Damontre Harris each scored 11 points.
Point guard Bruce Ellington had nine points in the win even though a day earlier he was a kick returner and receiver for the South Carolina football team in the 30-13 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. He played a season-low 13 minutes Tuesday, but was 3-for-3 on 3-pointers. Ellington has made eight of nine 3-pointers in the last two games he’s played.
“All of us use our non-conference schedule in preparation for what starts Saturday,”¿Horn said. “Obviously we have played a very challenging non-conference schedule, probably too challenging for our roster. Our game Saturday is not our first against a No. 1 or No. 2 (team).”
South Carolina also lost 87-62 to North Carolina, a team UK beat
73-72 in early December, during a tourney in Las Vegas Nov. 25 when the Tar Heels were unbeaten and ranked No. 1.
“The big challenge for us is not only facing great opponents, especially to start league play, but to continue to get better and make progress like we have each time out the last month,” Horn said. “If you win the game (at Kentucky), it is one win and you have 15 more (SEC games) to play. If you lose, it is one loss and you have 15 more to play.”
Rebounding could be a major issue for the Gamecocks, who are outrebounding foes 33.3-31.9 per game. Kentucky not only leads the nation in blocked shots with 141, including 67 by Davis, but the Cats are outrebounding teams 42.6-33.1 per game. The Wildcats outrebounded Arkansas-Little Rock 50-23 Tuesday after beating Louisville 57-31 on the boards the previous game.
“Rebounding was a concern for us heading into the year and continues to be and will be as we move forward in this game,”¿Horn said. “For us, we have to be a gang rebounding team that does a lot of little things like boxing out and pursuing the basketball. Maybe as important for us as it is keeping others off the glass is getting to the glass ourselves. It’s important because we don’t score at a high rate.”
Arkansas-Little Rock coach Steve Shields says keeping Kentucky in check on the boards is not that easy. Davis averages 10.6 rebounds per game, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also pulls off 7.9 boards and Terrence Jones gets 6.5.
“They have great players. Obviously, getting to the glass was a concern as well,” Shields said after his team’s loss. “Over the last five games they’ve had a positive 11.1 rebounds per game over their opponent and a positive 8.5 margin for the year. With their length that was a big concern of ours. They had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, and we talked about not giving up 10 in the second half. Unfortunately for us, they were able to get us on the glass with a positive 27 margin.”
“Our concern was to keep them off the boards. I think they ended up with 20 points off of second chance shots. They just rebounded,” Arkansas-Little Rock center D’Andre Williams said.
Calipari said Davis’ improvement has helped UK’s rebounding as much as anything.
“I think that Anthony is way tougher than he was earlier and he comes up with balls and they are pulling balls in. There have been a lot of missed shots on these teams we have been playing, so there were a lot of opportunities for rebounds,” Calipari said.