No. 1 South Carolina wins 28th straight 87-69 over ‘Cats

south carolina basketball
Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley’s pleased South Carolina had made its once-lopsided series with UConn more competitive the past few years.

She hopes her top-ranked team can accomplish another milestone when the teams meet for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

“It still stands true that we haven’t won up there,” Staley said.

Aliyah Boston had 14 points and 14 rebounds as South Carolina prepared for the top-five showdown with an 87-69 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night.

The Gamecocks (10-0 Southeastern Conference) improved to 22-0 and won their 28th straight, a run that included a 64-49 victory over the Huskies in Minneapolis last April to win the national championship.

Staley had lost her first seven games as South Carolina coach against UConn. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four matchups since.

“This particular class committed to each other,” Staley said. “When you have that type of commitment and you just want to win, you find yourself winning some games that you haven’t won before.”

Against Kentucky, reigning AP player of the year Boston extended her school mark with her 75th career double-double and moved within 11 of the SEC record of 86 games with a double-double held by LSU great Sylvia Fowles.

Things weren’t perfect for South Carolina, which fell behind early, then had its 15-point halftime lead cut to 54-48 midway through the third quarter.

Still, its dominant inside game – South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 62-14 in the paint – was more than enough to shut down Kentucky (10-12, 2-8), the last team to defeat the defending national champions at the SEC Tournament last March.

The Wildcats went on top 16-15 after a pair of baskets by Adebola Adeyeye.

That’s when South Carolina, fueled by its bench, took control with a 17-2 run. Ashlyn Watkins had three inside shots and Kamilla Cardoso scored four points during the surge.

The Wildcats used a 13-4 burst to start the third quarter to give South Carolina a few uncomfortable moments. But the Gamecocks got going once more with an 11-0 run to extend their margin.

Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 reserve, had 14 points and five of South Carolina’s 14 blocks. Defensive ace Brea Beal had 10 including both of the Gamecocks’ 3-pointers.

Beal thought the team held together well to blunt Kentucky’s runs and regain control. “I think it’s our mental aspect of the game and us believing in each other,” she said.

Robyn Benton had 24 points to lead Kentucky, which has lost three of its past four games.

Wildcats coach Kyra Elzy said South Carolina is difficult to match up with because of its deep bench. “They have depth after depth after depth,” she said. “They keep coming.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are the not the same team that featured two-time SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard the past few seasons. They have 10 newcomers – and six freshmen – who are still learning how to play against the SEC’s top teams like South Carolina.

South Carolina: Forgive the Gamecocks if their focus wasn’t fully on this one at first with a big week ahead. In an eight-game span, South Carolina will face No. 5 UConn and No. 3 LSU, a pair of high-profile games could expose any flaw – or show how powerful the Gamecocks are in chasing a second straight NCAA crown.

UCONN KARMA

South Carolina has opened 22-0 twice under coach Dawn Staley, in 2014-15 and the following year. Both runs ended against UConn. Next up for Gamecocks are the Huskies, although South Carolina has won three of the past four games over UConn including last April’s 64-49 victory to win the NCAA Tournament title.

UP NEXT

Kentucky returns home to face Alabama on Feb. 9.

South Carolina heads to No. 5 UConn on Sunday.

Tshiebwe’s 37 points, 24 rebounds lead way in Kentucky’s win

Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports
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LEXINGTON, Ky. –  Oscar Tshiebwe scored a career-high 37 points and grabbed a season-high 24 rebounds in a dominating performance that sent Kentucky to an 85-71 win over Georgia on Tuesday night.

Tshiebwe had 23 points with 15 rebounds in the second half and the Wildcats (12-6, 3-3 SEC) rallied from an eight-point deficit to follow up their win over then-No. 5 Tennessee on Saturday with a victory over the Bulldogs (13-5, 3-2), who came in having won six of their last seven.

Cason Wallace added 17 points, Antonio Reeves had 11 and Jacob Toppin finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Terry Roberts scored 21 points and Kario Oquendo 18 for Georgia.

Tshiebwe scored Kentucky’s first eight points of the second half before CJ Fredrick hit a 3-pointer to give the Wildcats their first lead since a brief edge with 11 minutes left in the first half. Kentucky took the lead for good midway through the second half, but it didn’t reach double figures until Tshiebwe had a dunk and two free throws for a 12-point edge with two minutes to go.

Tshiebwe finished 12-of-20 shooting and 13 of 18 from the line with his rebounds roughly even on both the offensive and defensive boards. In posting his 11th double-double this season, he was the chief reason the Wildcats outscored the Bulldogs 18-2 in second-chance points and were plus-13 on the boards.

After shooting just 33% in the first half in trailing 42-34, the Wildcats hit over 54% in the second half and scored 51 points. It was the opposite situation for Georgia, which shot 56% in the first half and just 36% in the second.

Georgia is host to Vanderbilt and Kentucky is home against Texas A&M in Saturday games.

Calipari, Kentucky silence doubters, beat No. 5 Tennessee

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Negativity has dogged the Kentucky basketball program since its disappointing loss to South Carolina on Tuesday.

Heading into Saturday’s 63-56 win over No. 5 Tennessee, Wildcats coach John Calipari did his best to insulate his players while absorbing as many bullets as possible himself.

“I haven’t lost faith in any of these guys,” he said. “I’ve got a good team. (Friday night), I collected all the (players’ cell) phones and iPads and everything else.”

Antonio Reeves scored 18 points and Oscar Tshiebwe had 15 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Wildcats (11-6, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) over the Volunteers. The victory ended a 25-game home win streak for Tennessee (14-3, 4-1) that dated back to the end of the 2020-21 season.

Kentucky led 58-50 with 3:28 left in the game. Two free throws by Santiago Vescovi and two buckets by Uros Plavsic closed the gap to two with less than a minute to play.

A Wildcat turnover gave Tennessee a shot to tie or take the lead, but Zakai Zeigler and Plavsic missed down low.

“Both coaches made it a slugfest,” said Calipari. “Nobody backed down.”

The Wildcats showed a physical presence and dominated the Volunteers on the boards, 43-23. Tennessee came into the game leading the SEC in rebounding margin (+9.94).

“Our frontline’s gotta do a better job rebounding,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “On the defensive end, we have to get everyone involved.”

The Tennessee big man Plavsic, who scored 19 points, was the only Vol to match Kentucky’s physicality.

Calipari said the strategy was to focus on the Vols’ perimeter play, while letting Plavsic have his way.

“They can beat us with 3s,” said Calipari. “They won’t beat us with 2s.”

CJ Fredrick scored eight in a row and had 10 of his 13 points in the first half as Kentucky led at the break, 33-26.

Vescovi, who tweaked his shooting (left) shoulder in a collision early in the game, had seven in the first half for Tennessee. He finished with 13 points.

“We had some uncontested looks at the rim,” Barnes said. “Point-blank layups – you’ve gotta make them.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

During his 36 seasons as a head coach in college basketball, Rick Barnes has led his teams into the AP Top 25 a total of 299 weeks. That includes 131 weeks in the Top 10.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: Besides the frustration that comes with six losses this early in the season, the Wildcats have had to deal with injury problems. G Cason Wallace (back) and F Jacob Toppin (shoulder) have been sidelined. Both started against the Vols. . Big man Oscar Tshiebwe leads the SEC with 10 double-doubles this season. . Sahvir Wheeler leads the SEC with 6.3 assists a game. This is his third straight year on top. . John Calipari coached his 36th game against Tennessee. No other coach has led his team against the Vols in as many games.

Tennessee: Senior G Santiago Vescovi has been hot lately. He came into the Kentucky game averaging 16.5 points over his last five games while shooting 60% from the field and 57% from 3-point. . Zakai Ziegler, who has gotten used to his role as a point guard coming off the bench, had 27 assists in his last three games heading into Saturday. . Chris Lofton (2004-08), the SEC’s all-time leader in 3-point baskets made (431), had his No. 5 hoisted into the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: Hosts Georgia on Tuesday.

Tennessee: Visits Mississippi State on Tuesday.

Kentucky, John Calipari frustrated by season-long struggles

Scott Utterback/Louisville Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky All-American forward Oscar Tshiebwe is wondering whether the Wildcats’ walk-ons should play at this point in a frustrating season, just to show some fire.

For college basketball’s reigning player of the year to challenge his talented teammates speaks volumes of the crisis within one of the sport’s most prestigious and successful programs.

“Play the people who are willing to fight, even some walk-ons,” the usually affable senior said after a 71-68 home loss to South Carolina. “Put the people who try to look cute on offense where they don’t want to play defense, put them on the bench. We’re here to fight and to try to do something.”

Kentucky began the season No. 4 and was favored to win the Southeastern Conference – along with its own usual high expectations of a national championship. At this point, the Wildcats have some work to do to even just get on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

The team’s passionate fan base has unleashed hurt and anger on talk shows and social media, even calling for coach John Calipari’s exit. Reports that Texas has reached out to the Hall of Famer for its coaching vacancy have only fueled that once-unthinkable sentiment to the point that one fan was escorted from Rupp Arena because of a sign that said, “Please go to Texas.”

Yes, it has come to that within Big Blue Nation.

Calipari will earn $8.5 million this season with $53 million remaining on a “lifetime” contract through the 2028-29 season that doesn’t have a buyout. He said this week he has not spoken with Texas, and insisted that he ignores the noise.

But Calipari knows the discontent is there and getting louder with each discouraging defeat.

“And are fans mad? They should be,” he said after Kentucky’s 28-game home winning streak was snapped. “We lost at home. We don’t lose at home. We lost at home.”

Calipari also addressed the obvious: a 10-6 Kentucky team that’s 1-3 in the SEC must improve, starting with himself.

The Wildcats are struggling with chemistry and consistency on both ends of the floor. Calipari’s strategy and recruiting are enduring harsh scrutiny. Injuries haven’t helped, though Tshiebwe is averaging 16 points and 13.1 rebounds per game after a preseason procedure on his right knee. Still, a physical Alabama squad limited him to six rebounds and four points in a 78-52 shellacking in which Kentucky’s starters tallied just 27 points against the now-No. 4 Crimson Tide.

Jay Bilas believes it’s too soon to panic, but noted that the Wildcats must step it up in the second half of the season.

“This is not an X-and-O issue, this is a player issue,” Bilas said in a phone interview. “And the players have to bring more, do more collectively and individually than they’ve done. Some players are going to be more capable of doing more than others. But this isn’t an issue of run a different offense and all of a sudden everything gets better.”

Whatever needs to be done, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart expressed faith in Calipari’s ability to fix it during an interview on Kentucky Sports Radio.

“We’ve battled some injury bugs, we’ve battled some confidence bugs and hopefully we can get those things put behind us,” Barnhart said. “We’ve got 14, 15 games left in the regular season and get where we want to get to postseason and make a run. We’re famous for doing that and Cal’s teams are famous for doing that.”

In a hoops-mad state that expects championships and annual top-three recruiting classes, the problem is that Kentucky hasn’t won an NCAA championship since 2012, made a Final Four since going 38-1 in the 2014-15 season or been a serious national title contender since an overtime loss to Auburn in the Elite Eight in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the Big Dance in 2020, and 9-16 collapse the next year left the Wildcats out altogether.

Tshiebwe’s phenomenal breakout keyed last season’s rebound, but the team was upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by No. 15 Saint Peter’s – considered Kentucky’s worst NCAA loss ever.

With the 6-foot-9 Tshiebwe returning, there were, again, high expectations. As of now, Kentucky’s tournament resume lacks a Quad 1 victory after losses to Michigan State, Gonzaga, UCLA, ‘Bama and now-No. 20 Missouri by double digits.

This week’s loss to the Gamecocks demonstrated everything Kentucky has done wrong. The Wildcats never led against the SEC’s lowest-rated team, and it took a furious rally to get within a point before missing attempts to tie it up in the final seconds. Afterward, Tshiebwe lamented.

“Some of us coming in are taking things for granted,” he said. “I just tell them, (that) the coaches, they cannot do it for us. They just come out with the game plan with who we are going to depend on and how we are going to play offense.

“We come to Kentucky for a very good reason, we come chasing greatness. And if you come not willing to fight, it’s going to be tough.”

Kentucky’s immediate outlook looks dire with a visit to No. 5 Tennessee, which won last year’s meeting 76-63 in Knoxville and four of the last six matchups overall. Volunteers coach Rick Barnes nonetheless expects the Wildcats’ best this weekend and beyond with Calipari.

“I’m not sure he’s had his whole team together all year,” Barnes said. “One thing I do know is his teams always get better and play their best basketball late in the year.”

Then the Wildcats host No. 2 Kansas, the reigning national champions, on Jan. 28 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Jayhawks no doubt will aim to avenge last season’s 80-62 rout at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kentucky also has two meetings against No. 15 Arkansas and a home rematch with the Volunteers.

Considering the Wildcats lost to a South Carolina team that got drilled by 43 at home by Tennessee, they can’t afford to look past any SEC opponent. But right now, the concern is whether the Wildcats can beat one.

“Every game we play is going to be a dogfight with us being Kentucky,” forward Daimion Collins said. “We just have to fight, work hard, rebound and defend. If we do those things we’ll win some games.”

Gamecocks top Kentucky at Rupp for first time in 14 years

Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports
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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Meechie Johnson hit six 3-pointers and scored a career-high 26 points to lead South Carolina over Kentucky 71-68 on Tuesday night, winning at Rupp Arena for the first time in 14 years and giving coach Lamont Paris his first SEC victory.

The win was just the third for the Gamecocks (8-8, 1-2) in 31 games at Kentucky (10-6, 1-3) and the first at Rupp Arena since January 2009.

Kentucky had its SEC-leading 28-game home win streak snapped in what has been a decidedly disappointing start to the season with its worst start in SEC play since 1986-87.

Gregory “GG” Jackson II added 16 points for the Gamecocks, who shot 48%, making 11 of 20 3-point attempts, outscoring the Wildcats 21-12 on second-chance points and surviving 15 turnovers.

Oscar Tshiebwe scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, his ninth double this season for Kentucky. CJ Fredrick added 14 points and Antonio Reeves 13, both off the bench. The Wildcats shot 51% but made just 3 of 10 from the arc and 7 of 14 from the line.

Kentucky was missing forward Jacob Toppin with a right shoulder injury and guard Cason Wallace left midway through the first half with a lower back issue. Both are double-figure scorers. Toppin’s status is day-to-day.

South Carolina led throughout and was up by 12 with 13 minutes remaining. Kentucky made a couple of runs at the Gamecocks and got within a point with 51 seconds to go after a 10-0 surge with Reeves and Fredrick hitting 3-pointers. Johnson then lost an inbounds pass out of bounds with 20.2 left, the fourth turnover during the Wildcats’ run. But Kentucky missed a pair of 3-point attempts to end the game.

Both teams were coming off lopsided losses to top-10 teams, Kentucky falling to Alabama 78-52 and South Carolina losing to Tennessee 85-42. But only the Gamecocks responded at the start, taking a 21-6 lead in the first seven minutes and a 42-32 halftime edge after shooting 57% with Johnson scoring 16 points.

UP NEXT

On Saturday, South Carolina is home against Texas A&M while Kentucky plays at Tennessee.

NOT IN THEIR HOUSE

A fan was escorted from Rupp Arena after holding up a sign that said “Please go to Texas,” directed at Kentucky coach John Calipari, who has been the subject of speculation that he might be a candidate to replace fired Longhorns coach Chris Beard.

Kentucky basketball spokesman Deb Moore said afterward the unidentified man was given the choice of putting the sign away but refused, and chose to leave.

Toppin, Tshiebwe pace Kentucky past LSU 74-71

Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports
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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Jacob Toppin scored 21 points shooting 9 for 13, Oscar Tshiebwe had a double-double and Kentucky held on to beat LSU 74-71 on Tuesday night.

Up 72-68, Kentucky’s Chris Livingston fouled Cam Hayes on his 3-point attempt with 10 seconds to go. Hayes sank all three free throws to reduce LSU’s deficit to a point.

On Kentucky’s ensuing possession, LSU’s Derek Fountain came up with an apparent steal on the sideline but failed to maintain control and the Wildcats kept the ball. Toppin was fouled with 3.4 seconds left and made two foul shots for the game’s final points.

KJ Williams missed a jump shot for the Tigers to close it. As his foot touched the 3-point line a made basket would still have given Kentucky (10-4, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) the win.

Tshiebwe finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds, Cason Wallace scored 14 and Sahvir Wheeler 11. Kentucky ended LSU’s seven-game win streak. Tshiebwe entered the game leading the country in rebounding at 13.6 per game.

Williams scored 23 points for LSU (12-2, 1-1), Adam Miller added 15, reserve Trae Hannibal had 12 on 5-of-6 shooting and Hayes 11.

In a series dating to Feb. 27, 1933, Kentucky improved to 93-28 against LSU.

The Tigers play at Texas A&M on Saturday. Kentucky plays No. 7 Alabama on the road Saturday.