Kentucky faces stiff test on road vs. Gamecocks (Jan 16, 2018)
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Kentucky will be looking to conclude a daunting, but successful early Southeastern Conference schedule when it plays its fourth road game in five outings Tuesday at South Carolina. The Wildcats are 2-1 so far.
More impressive, Kentucky (14-3, 4-1 SEC) has been doing it lately with only seven scholarship players. Point guard Quade Green has missed the last two games with a lower back injury, forward Tai Wynyard has missed three straight with the flu. They join freshmen Jarred Vanderbilt and Jemarl Baker, who have yet to play because of preseason injuries.
In Saturday's 74-67 win at Vanderbilt, coach John Calipari used seven players. Guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo played 39 minutes each, forward PJ Washington played 38.
"These guys should be happy," Calipari said. "They got tired. ... But you ask these guys, 'Would you rather play half a game or play every minute?' What do you think they're going to say? 'I'll be good. I'll play every minute.'"
Calipari, who used only six players most of the time when his UMass team reached the 1996 Final Four, had strong support.
"In 2010 when John Wooden was still alive, I called him and said, 'Will you watch my team? We're not an execution team. Do you have any ideas?'" Calipari said. "Coach Wooden said, 'you play too many guys.' He said, 'I know why you do because kids will transfer.' But we played five guys and they earned their space. I'd play a sixth guy if I needed to. They earned it in practice.'"
On Monday, there was still no official word on whether Green or Wynyard would play at South Carolina. Fans have been awaiting the debut of Vanderbilt, who has been practicing but has yet to play in a game.
Kentucky is formidable with four active players averaging in double figures. Freshman Kevin Knox is tops at 14.2 points per game.
Kentucky averages 78.3 points while shooting 48.8 percent, including 36.2 from 3-point range.
South Carolina (11-6, 2-3 SEC) is led by junior forward Chris Silva, who averages 14.2 points. Grad student guard Frank Booker checks in at 10.9.
The Gamecocks average 70.9 points, while shooting 41 percent and 32.7 from 3-point range.
"They are going to try to rough us up," Kentucky associate head coach Kenny Payne said Monday. "They are very physical."
Kentucky and South Carolina have two common opponents in SEC play. The Wildcats won at Vanderbilt 74-67 and defeated Georgia 66-61 in Lexington. Georgia defeated Vanderbilt 71-60 at home and topped Georgia 64-57 at Athens in its last outing Saturday.
Don't expect the Gamecocks to rest on their laurels. Coach Frank Martin won't let that happen.
"There are some times we win and I come in and I'm wound up because we didn't play the game the right way," Martin told seccountry.com. "I don't come in and I'm happy because we won. It's about doing things the right way."
Doing things the right way for Martin is playing hard and smart on every possession. And not getting too confident, despite a good road win at Georgia, and remaining grounded against teams like Kentucky.
"Every kid that plays high school basketball, I don't care what anyone tells you, they dream of playing for one of those blue-blood schools or they dream of playing against those blue-blood schools. It is what it is," Martin said. "I'm sure the guys on our team are going to be overly excited about it, like when we played Temple up in Madison Square Garden. We had some guys just get caught up in the moment."