No. 22 Kentucky dominates South Carolina 90-59
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Forget the stat sheet. Kentucky coach John Calipari doesn’t need to look at it to know Darius Miller is finally starting to get it.
Sure, the junior forward’s career-high 22 points in the 22nd-ranked Wildcats’ 90-59 romp over South Carolina on Saturday was nice. To Calipari, however, the bigger measuring stick for the talented but inconsistent Miller’s progress is the number of times he tests his coach’s sanity over the course of a game.
Against the Gamecocks, it was tantalizingly close to zero.
“He had one stretch where I wanted to choke him because he had played so well,” said Calipari, who was kidding about the choking, but couldn’t resist poking Miller just a bit for a short stretch in the second half when he “reverted” to his formerly reticent ways.
That’s fine by Miller. He’s grown used to Calipari’s almost impossibly high standards.
“He pretty much wants perfection,” Miller said.
Miller almost gave it to him. He knocked down his first six 3-point attempts, grabbed nine rebounds and was a presence for almost the entire 37 minutes he was on the floor.
South Carolina coach Darrin Horn called Miller “unbelievable,” adding only at Kentucky would players like Miller and junior guard DeAndre Liggins be considered role players.
“I think it’s a joke that anybody would refer to those guys as role players,” Horn said. “I don’t know any role players who get 22.”
Terrence Jones added 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Wildcats (19-7, 7-5 SEC), who remain unbeaten at Rupp Arena under Calipari. Kentucky scored the game’s first 15 points and led by as much as 36 to push its home winning streak to 32, the second-longest in school history.
“We played great defense and Darius’ shooting was unbelievable,” Jones said. “I just feel we are playing well as a team. Everyone is giving up shots for the extra pass and we are starting to talk well on defense.”
Malik Cooke had 12 points as South Carolina (13-12, 4-8) shot just 34 percent from the floor in losing their fifth straight. Leading scorers Bruce Ellington and Sam Muldrow combined for 13 points on 3-of-17 shooting as South Carolina suffered its worst loss of the season.
“We didn’t compete,” Horn said. “There’s really no excuse for that. We had individuals that obviously we count on that didn’t get anything done tonight.”
Miller helped make sure of it, topping his previous career-high of 20 points set in the NCAA tournament last year with a 3-pointer that gave Kentucky a 60-32 lead early in the second half.
It was the type of performance he’s hinted at during his up-and-down career that has featured equal doses of solid play with games where he seems to disappear in plain sight.
That wasn’t a problem Saturday. Miller hit his first 3-pointer and his confidence kept growing and his teammates kept finding him as the Wildcats easily broke down whatever defense the Gamecocks threw at them.
“We were just prepared,” Jones said. “We had them scouted pretty well.”
Miller had plenty of help. Brandon Knight added 12 points and set a career-high with nine assists, Doron Lamb threw in 18 while making his second straight start and Liggins appeared to have no problem coming off the bench.
Calipari didn’t call the benching punishment—not exactly—saying instead he simply wanted to do something different and “maybe that’s what (Liggins) needs to.”
It was more than enough to overwhelm the Gamecocks and ruin Horn’s homecoming.
The Lexington native had a solid contingent of supporters behind the South Carolina bench and received a nice ovation upon his introduction, but the pleasantries ended there.
The Gamecocks missed their first six shots, and when Cooke finally got the Gamecocks on the board with a dunk South Carolina was already down 13. Kentucky quickly pushed the lead to 20 points regardless of whatever defense Horn drew up.
Kentucky zipped through South Carolina’s man-to-man, deftly passed out of trouble when the Gamecocks went to a halfcourt trap and shot over their 2-3 zone.
Horn called a couple of timeouts to help the Gamecocks regain their composure, but their leaders were nowhere to be found. Ellington and Smith went 0 for 10 in the first half as Kentucky roared into the locker room up 50-21, tied for its biggest halftime lead this season.
“We didn’t compete well enough as a team,” Cooke said. “We got outrebounded and stuff like that. The crowd was in it, (Kentucky) got a lot of loose balls that we should have got.”
Calipari called timeout once in frustration after a pair of turnovers keyed a 9-0 South Carolina run that trimmed Kentucky’s lead to 55-32. His team’s attention back on the floor, the Wildcats ended any semblance of drama by going on a 9-0 burst capped by a difficult runner from Liggins that put Kentucky up 64-32 and sent some of the faithful home early.
The win capped a week a successful week at home, but the Wildcats know the real test is Wednesday when they travel to Arkansas. Kentucky is just 1-5 on the road in SEC play.
South Carolina, which was 3-1 in the league a month ago, now must find a way to regroup quickly. The Gamecocks host Ole Miss on Tuesday.
“I have great concern for our players to go out and compete and play what resembles South Carolina basketball,” Horn said.