No. 2 Kentucky 82, South Carolina 61
Patrick Patterson agonized for a month over the one blemish on No. 2 Kentucky's otherwise perfect season - a loss to South Carolina on a night when he had just five points, his worst outing by far.
``It was just pitiful on my part,'' he said. ``No energy, no offensive presence, no defensive presence. I was extremely frustrated.''
Determined not to repeat it in Thursday night's rematch with the Gamecocks, Patterson responded with a season-high 23 points - many of them in the clutch - and Kentucky coasted to an 82-61 victory.
The Wildcats (27-1, 12-1) need just one more victory or a Vanderbilt loss to clinch at least a share of their 44th Southeastern Conference championship. Vanderbilt beat Georgia 96-94 in overtime Thursday, delaying the Kentucky celebration for at least another game.
Like its last meeting with Kentucky a month ago, South Carolina (14-13, 5-8) proved a pesky opponent at times. However, Kentucky had too much offensive firepower, going on a late 13-0 run that turned what was then a 10-point lead into a blowout.
Defensively, Kentucky gave up 26 points to the SEC's leading scorer, Devan Downey, but little else.
``When you have Patrick playing the way he's playing, it takes the heat off everyone else,'' coach John Calipari said. ``I'm so proud of him and what he's doing. We need him to be this.''
South Carolina never led, and every time it started to chip away, the Wildcats had an answer and usually it was from Patterson. He scored the first points of the game on a 3-pointer and didn't slow down.
Kentucky had a 15-point lead early in the second half, but twice Patterson responded when the Gamecocks cut it to six - first with a dunk, then a three-point play. South Carolina got no closer.
The veteran forward has often been overshadowed this year by star freshmen John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, but this was Patterson's night to be clutch.
Behind Patterson and eyeing payback, Kentucky was psyched in this one from the opening tip.
Sam Muldrow's dunk midway through the first half cut the early Kentucky lead to 23-21, but the Gamecocks would score just five more points before halftime. Three came on a long heave from Downey at the buzzer that made it 37-26.
Other than that, Kentucky closed the half on a 14-2 run, punctuated by a putback from DeAndre Liggins off a miss by Wall and a bank shot by Bledsoe.
``We wanted to set the tone early, and that's what we did,'' Liggins said. ``We didn't stop. We kept on going, kept our foot on the gas pedal.''
As for Patterson, Liggins said he was ``humble,'' and afterward, he seemed to live up to that label.
``It was just the luck of the draw,'' Patterson said. ``The ball bounced my way and, lucky enough, I was able to put it in the basket.''
Downey, who scored 30 points in the previous meeting in Columbia, shot for an even higher percentage in this one, going 9 of 25, but the team made fewer than 40 percent of its shots and only four of 20 3-point attempts.
``It was just like we expected,'' Downey said. ``We knew they were going to come out and play off of so much emotion. We knew there were going to be runs.''
Although South Carolina kept the game close early, that was when the Wildcats turned in some of their most acrobatic plays.
Cousins followed Patterson's opening 3 with a driving layup, drawing a foul in the process. He missed the free throw but got his own rebound and scored again. Cousins had 19 points and 11 rebounds to increase his UK freshman record for double-doubles to 17. He also set a UK freshman record with his 285th rebound this season.
Then came Kentucky's nightly showstopper, Wall, who grabbed a steal and sprinted the other way, finishing with a reverse layup, not even looking at the basket in the process.
Those plays gave Kentucky an early 11-2 lead. South Carolina cut it to 16-15 after consecutive baskets by Downey and a reverse layup by Lakeem Jackson, but Kentucky got some cushion in a hurry thanks to Cousins.
First, he used two hands on a thundering dunk, then just needed one the next time down court, slamming home an alley-oop pass from Wall.
In the last game against South Carolina, Kentucky had just claimed the No. 1 spot in the polls and even got a pregame pep talk from President Barack Obama, who called to thank the Wildcats for a fundraising effort to benefit earthquake victims in Haiti.
There was no such hoopla around this one, although Hall of Famer Magic Johnson was among those in attendance and he heard roars from the Rupp Arena crowd when he was introduced.
South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said he certainly noticed improvement in the Wildcats from the last meeting.
``I think they are better, without question,'' Horn said. ``I think individuals and collectively they have a better feel of what they want to do.''