While Kentucky’s time in the Top 25 may be short-lived, it’s more concerned with avoiding consecutive losses.
The No. 24 Wildcats try to bounce back after a rare off shooting night when they look to win their 12th straight home game over South Carolina on Saturday.
Kentucky (16-5, 5-1 SEC) broke into the rankings Monday for the first time since Oct. 29, 2007, after opening conference play with five straight wins - three on the road.
The Wildcats, though, came out flat the next night at Mississippi, suffering an 85-80 loss after shooting 38.5 percent from the field. Kentucky came into the game as the nation’s fourth-best shooting team at 50.2 percent.
SEC leading scorer Jodie Meeks (25.8 points per game), who was shooting 58.0 percent in his previous four games, especially had a tough time, finishing 4-of-15 (26.7) from the field while scoring 21 points. He was held without a field goal for the first 28:04.
Kentucky also played poorly on the defensive end, giving up its second-most points of the season.
Coach Billy Gillispie was frustrated by his team’s 7-of-28 shooting performance from 3-point range. The Wildcats came in averaging 16.5 attempts from beyond the arc - 10th in the conference.
“I don’t think we’ve taken that many since I’ve been here,” Gillispie said.
After Tuesday’s rough loss, opening a three-game homestand might help the Wildcats bounce back and keep pace with Florida atop the East Division. Kentucky is 10-2 at home, where it’s shooting 51.2 percent and outscoring opponents by an average of 19.5 points.
Meeks is averaging 22.4 points and shooting 40.8 percent (42-of-102) from 3-point range in Lexington.
Kentucky has won four straight and 24 of the last 27 meetings against South Carolina (15-4, 4-2), which is looking to win its fourth in a row. The Gamecocks, who are one game behind the Gators and Wildcats in the division, are coming off an 86-76 victory over Vanderbilt on Wednesday.
Devan Downey scored 18 points and Dominique Archie added 17. Downey scored 12 of his points in the second half after the Gamecocks saw their 13-point lead disappear.
“I think obviously he made some plays for us,” coach Darrin Horn said of Downey. “But I think a bigger part of it was once we finally got a few shots to go down, we started playing the way we wanted to play. … There’s no question he’s always a key to it, but it starts with everyone being committed to it.”
Downey is tied for second in the conference in scoring with 19.6 points per game. He’s raised his play against ranked opponents, averaging 24.8 points to help the Gamecocks split four games versus Top 25 teams.
South Carolina’s last three wins have come at home and it now plays four of its next five on the road. The Gamecocks, 2-3 away from home this season, haven’t won in Lexington since a 72-66 victory in 1997.