South Carolina-Kentucky Preview
Kentucky coach John Calipari is trying to keep the burden of chasing history off his players, who can help the Wildcats tie their best start in school history Saturday.
The top-ranked program will try to reach 25-0 for the first time since 1953-54 by getting past visiting South Carolina.
To preserve its run at perfection, Kentucky (24-0, 11-0 SEC) had to rally from a six-point deficit in the final seven minutes Tuesday at LSU. The Wildcats then watched the Tigers miss a late 3-pointer while hanging on for a 71-69 victory.
Calipari attempted to take some of the pressure off Division I's lone unbeaten team before that game by sending out a prank message on Twitter, which got nearly 2,000 retweets.
"This isn't life or death. It's not March," Calipari said. "It was also for the team. I wanted them to understand. I keep telling them, 'What's the worst (thing that could happen)? I'll say it this time, if we lose this game, then we're (24-1) or whatever it is. What's it matter? Just go play and try to get better.'"
Kentucky couldn't play much better defensively than in its 58-43 win at South Carolina on Jan. 24, holding the Gamecocks to 22.6 percent shooting - their worst since the start of the 1996-97 season - and scoring 21 points off 12 turnovers. Devin Booker had seven of his team-leading 18 points in a 14-0 run that bridged the halves.
It was the seventh win in the last eight meetings for the Wildcats, who have taken four straight and 25 of 27 all-time home games in the series - the most recent a 75-55 rout Feb. 5, 2013.
Willie Cauley-Stein is the only active Kentucky player to see action in that game. He had 13 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes.
Cauley-Stein was held to two points and four rebounds in 20 minutes in the matchup earlier this season. He's averaging 11.5 points in his last four games after scoring 6.2 per contest in his previous nine.
Aaron Harrison had 13 points in that road win but hasn't shot consistently this month. He went 0 for 4 while scoring one point against Georgia on Feb. 3, scored 23 while making 6 of 12 attempts at Florida on Feb. 7, then had two points on 1-of-8 shooting at LSU.
South Carolina (12-11, 3-8) has struggled to shoot throughout SEC play, converting at a league-low 36.5 percent while averaging 59.4 points. The Gamecocks have shot 33.5 percent in their last seven games but earned a 65-60 win over last-place Missouri on Tuesday.
Sindarius Thornwell led the way with 14 points, a season-best six assists and five rebounds. South Carolina's leading scorer (11.5 ppg) has reached double figures in a career-best eight consecutive games.
"A win always boosts your confidence," Thornwell said. "Right now, good vibes, everybody's feeling good about themselves."
Thornwell was the only player in double digits last month against Kentucky with 14 points while second-leading scorer Duane Notice (11.0 ppg) was held to two on 0-of-5 shooting.
He missed 11 of 14 shots while scoring nine points Tuesday.
South Carolina is 1-11 all-time against the AP's No. 1 team with that lone win coming over a visiting Kentucky on Jan. 26, 2010.
The Gamecocks, 0-5 on the road in SEC play, are visiting a top-ranked team for the first time since an 82-73 loss at Notre Dame on Jan. 20, 1979, and are 0-4 in trips to No. 1 opponents.
They fell 84-65 in their only visit to a top-ranked Kentucky on Dec. 12, 1977.