Malik Monk scored 27 points and Bam Adebayo added 18 as No. 5 Kentucky rolled over No. 24 South Carolina, 85-69, in Rupp Arena on Saturday evening.
The win kept the Wildcats undefeated in the SEC and set the stage for a battle of top five teams when No. 1 Kansas comes to Lexington next weekend.
South Carolina got 34 points out of Sindarius Thornwell, who was terrific on Saturday, but the rest of the starting lineup combined for 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting.
Here are three things that we can take away from this game:
1. The Wildcats have firm control over the SEC title race: We already knew this entering the year, but after seeing Florida and South Carolina enter this week without a loss in league play, there was reason to think – to hope? – that maybe someone would make the race entertaining.
It doesn’t look like that is going to happen.
On the same day that Florida lost a home game to Vanderbilt, dropping them two games off of the pace atop the conference, the Gamecocks lost the only game that they’ll play against Kentucky this season. South Carolina looked like the only team capable of picking off UK in league play, but without a return game, it’s hard to imagine Frank Martin’s club will be able to make up the ground.
2. Kentucky’s supporting cast stepped up: Monk was awesome on Saturday, but Kentucky’s other two stars – Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox – didn’t do much. Fox left the game midway through the first half with an ankle injury – more on that below – and Briscoe was, frankly, atrocious, going scoreless and committing seven turnovers against South Carolina’s overwhelming defense.
But even with their best players struggling, Kentucky was able to breeze to a pretty easy win against the only other undefeated team in the SEC. Adebayo was dominant in the paint, finishing with 18 points, but more important was the performance of Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel. Gabriel, who was averaging 12 boards in his last two games entering the weekend, had 11 points and five boards and his three more threes while Willis finished with 12 points, seven boards and one facial.
It’s comforting for Kentucky to know they can beat the second-best team in the SEC by 16 points on a night where two of their three starting guards provide basically nothing.
3. Injuries overshadowed everything else: Unfortunately for South Carolina, they probably never had a chance in this one once news came down that P.J. Dozier would miss the game with back spasms. Thornwell has, unquestionably, been the best player for the Gamecocks this season, but with Thornwell out of the lineup for six games earlier in the year, Dozier stepped in and looked the part of being a McDonald’s All-American. With Dozier, who is the second-best offensive weapon on the roster, South Carolina entered Saturday ranked 175th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. You cannot expect to compete with Kentucky without having the horses to run with them.
But midway through the first half, Kentucky lost De’Aaron Fox to a right ankle injury. It didn’t appear to be all that serious – Fox didn’t even limp immediately after he rolled the ankle over – but he sat out the second half of the game.
Fox returned to the bench wearing a walking boot. His status going forward will be something to monitor. It would be a shame if he had to miss Saturday’s showdown with Kansas in Rupp Arena.
“It’s not swelled,” head coach John Calipari told reporters after the game. “I think it might’ve been a stinger. I don’t know. But something hit his ankle.”