South Carolina-Kentucky Preview

Although it hasn’t always led to losses, squandering late leads

has been a season-long problem for Kentucky.

John Calipari hopes his team can fix that issue before the SEC

and NCAA tournaments.

After escaping with another close win, the 22nd-ranked Wildcats

seek improved poise down the stretch Saturday against a South

Carolina team that nearly rallied to beat Kentucky four weeks

ago.

The Wildcats (18-7, 6-5) are tied for third in the SEC Eastern

Division. They need to finish in the top two to receive a

first-round bye in the conference tournament, but Calipari said he

hasn’t even talked to his players about the seedings.

“We are worried about the last 5 minutes of the game right now,”

he said. “If we can get that right, the other stuff will take care

of itself.”

Kentucky led 83-70 with 3:49 to play against Mississippi State

on Tuesday, but committed two turnovers and missed two free throws

as the Bulldogs went on a 9-0 run to pull within four points with

49 seconds left. The Wildcats hung on for an 85-79 win, avoiding a

fourth loss in five games.

“We need to play to win and not play to the score,” said Brandon

Knight, who had 24 points to extend his school freshman record with

his 11th 20-point game. “Things like knowing time and clock and

knowing when we’re up double digits. We don’t need to score a lot

under 4 minutes if we have a double-digit lead.”

Knight is one of three freshmen starters for Calipari, who

believes some of the late-game troubles stem from youth.

“I have a young, inexperienced team,” Calipari said. “We are

working on it, which is what we have to do.

“We just have to try to win a game, try to get better, try to

finish a game off and just walk in and say, ‘OK, let’s try to

figure this out.'”

Kentucky, which has won 31 straight home games, struggled to

finish at South Carolina on Jan. 22.

The Wildcats’ 16-point lead slipped to five with 1:16 left, but

they scored six of the game’s final eight points to win 67-58.

Knight had 23 points while fellow freshman Terrence Jones scored 14

to lead Kentucky to its second straight win over the Gamecocks

after losing the previous three meetings.

South Carolina (13-11, 4-7) arrives at Rupp Arena after nearly

completing a late comeback in Wednesday’s 73-67 loss at

Tennessee.

The Gamecocks went on an 8-0 run to pull within five points with

a minute remaining, but could get no closer and ended up losing

their fourth straight to remain in last place in the SEC East.

“We got to keep building on what we saw on Wednesday night,”

coach Darrin Horn said. “Obviously there are some things we got to

continue to get better at, and that’s been our focus.”

Junior forward Malik Cooke had a career-best 22 points, but

senior Sam Muldrow had another tough night, missing 11 of 14 shots

and finishing with eight points.

Muldrow, who had a team-best 23 points against Kentucky last

month, is averaging 9.6 and shooting 35.8 percent shooting in his

last five games. He’d averaged 19.0 points and shot 57.1 percent in

his previous three contests.