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South Carolina stuns No. 1 Kentucky

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Eric Bledsoe of Kentucky has his shot blocked by Sam Muldrow of South Carolina.
(Mary Ann Chastain/AP Photo)

After it was all over – after the final horn had sounded and South Carolina's first-ever victory against a No.1-ranked team was complete – Gamecocks guard Devan Downey snaked through the court-stormers at Colonial Life Arena, high-fived friends and strangers and repeated the same phrase.

"I told you so," Downey said. "I told you so."

Downey may have indeed predicted South Carolina's 68-62 victory over previously unbeaten Kentucky on Tuesday. But you can bet not many people believed him.

The unranked Gamecocks, after all, took the court saddled with an 11-8 record and a three-game losing streak. Their second-best player (Dominique Archie) suffered a season-ending injury two months ago and another starter (Mike Holmes) had been dismissed from the team.

Still – even during a season that seemed all but lost – Downey was confident enough on Tuesday to predict a victory. Then he went out and made it happen.

Playing against a Kentucky squad littered with lottery picks, Downey scored 30 points and Brandis Raley-Ross added 17 to spark South Carolina to one of its biggest wins in school history. Some of the students who stormed the court handed dollar bills to athletic director Eric Hyman to help cover the costs of the $25,000 fine the SEC has imposed on the school after fans rushed the floor.

"I'll handle this one," Hyman was quoted as saying after the game.

One of the best things about the upset is that it finally gave Downey the chance to receive the national publicity he has so long deserved. The 5-foot-9 guard, who began his career at Cincinnati, averaged 18.4 points as a sophomore at South Carolina and 19.8 points last year.

Downey entered Tuesday's game as the SEC's leading scorer averaging 21.9 points. He has now eclipsed the 30-point barrier in four of his last six games.

"Let's be honest," Downey told reporters. "No one gave us a chance."

As much as it benefitted South Carolina, the loss may end up helping Kentucky, as well. At 19-0 the Wildcats were off to their best start in 44 years and on Monday had received their first No. 1 ranking since 2003.

Kentucky coach John Calipari knew his younger players – the Wildcats start three freshmen – were capable of losing focus, especially after experiences like the one Kentucky went through earlier in the day, when President Barack Obama phoned in via conference call just hours before the game.

Obama wanted to thank the Wildcats for raising more than $1 million in the "Hoops for Haiti" campaign. During the call Obama addressed point guard John Wall as "All-Star" and listened as forward DeMarcus Cousins told him he looked forward to meeting him at the White House following the season.

"The way you guys are going, that may happen," Obama said.

The President then issued a warning.

"There is a tendency once you get to No. 1 to start to let down a little bit," he said. "[South Carolina] is a tough place to play, so you guys stay focused. I expect to see you guys in the championship game at some point."

If anything, the loss should get the Wildcats' attention and bring them back to reality. They won't be ranked No. 1 anymore, but who cares? This team will be better for what happened in Columbia. They'll realize that when they're in the Final Four.

"No. 1 is not a championship," Cousins told reporters after the game. "We're playing for a championship."


IN A ZONE

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Greivis Vasquez has Maryland on the move.
(Robb Carr/AP Photo)

Kalin Lucas – The Michigan State point guard clearly took Tom Izzo's words to heart when the coach held him out of practice and removed him from the starting lineup earlier this month because of a lack of leadership. Lucas has hit the game-winning shot in back-to-back road wins against Minnesota (65-64 on Saturday) and Michigan (57-56 on Tuesday). Thanks to Lucas the Spartans are 8-0 in the Big Ten with a two-game lead over second-place Wisconsin (6-2).

Maryland – Sounds crazy, but the Terrapins might be the best team in the ACC. But name another conference team that is playing better than the Terps, whose only ACC loss came in an 85-83 setback at Wake Forest. Gary Williams' team squashed Miami by 22 points on Tuesday. Maryland seems so much more balanced than last year, when Greivis Vasquez was clearly the main star. Vasquez is averaging a team-high 17.9 points, but three other players (Landon Milbourne, Sean Mosley and Eric Hayes) are scoring in double figures. And to think, this time last year, people were calling for Williams' head.

Marcus Morris – There may not be a more improved player in college basketball this season than Kansas' sophomore forward. Morris is averaging 18.8 points and 7.8 rebounds over his past five games and has averages of 12.6 and 5.8 on the season. Other than Sherron Collins, Morris has been the Jayhawks' MVP thus far.

Arizona – The Wildcats have won three of their past five games and appear more than capable of contending for the Pac-10 title. Not bad for a squad that has a new head coach (Sean Miller) and is predominantly made up of freshmen and sophomores. At 4-3 in league play, Arizona is in a five-way tie for second place. Cal is in first at 5-2.

Herb Pope – Transferring from New Mexico State to Seton Hall has paid off big time for Pope, who scored 19 points and snared nine rebounds in the Pirates' upset of Pittsburgh on Sunday. Although teammate and leading scorer Jeremy Hazell has garnered most of the attention, Pope has been a model of consistency in averaging 12.7 points and 11.1 rebounds. He has 11 double-doubles.

Elias Harris – Other than John Wall, there may not be a freshman in the country who has performed as well as the 6-foot-7 Gonzaga forward. Harris is averaging 16.1 points and 8.2 rebounds for the 16-3 Bulldogs, and it's not as if he's compiled his statistics against weak competition. Gonzaga has played Duke, Cincinnati, Wake Forest, Illinois, Washington State, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

Iowa – It's hard not to feel good for the Hawkeyes and coach Todd Lickliter, who have won two of their last three conference games following a period when it looked as if they may not win any. Iowa's program has been decimated by transfers, and earlier this season a medical condition forced Lickliter away from the sidelines. On Sunday, though, Iowa beat a surging Indiana team by 15 points in Bloomington. A week earlier it defeated Penn State. Iowa is now 8-12 overall and 2-5 in Big Ten play.


IN A FUNK

Clemson – Is there a team that teases – and then disappoints – its fanbase as much as the Tigers? It has to be maddening to crush North Carolina one night and then lose to Boston College the next. Good teams don't let those things happen. Then again, Clemson has yet to win a NCAA tournament game under Oliver Purnell.

Texas' freshmen – Avery Bradley, Jordan Hamilton and J'Covan Brown form one of the top freshman classes in the country, but they seem to be a hitting a wall as of late. Either that or they're being rattled by the hostile crowds they're encountering on the road. Texas has lost two straight games and has been underwhelming since the start of the 2010.

Pittsburgh – Just when everyone started to get excited about Jamie Dixon's squad, the Panthers brought us back to reality by getting whipped at home by Georgetown before losing on the road at Seton Hall. Dixon is still doing an excellent job considering everything Pittsburgh lost from last season's Elite Eight team. But all of that national coach of the year talk was premature.

Missouri to the Big Ten – School officials say they're willing to entertain the idea, but I hope it doesn't happen. I like the Big 12 the way it is – and the Big Ten, too.

Rutgers – Are the Scarlet Knights even trying anymore? Rutgers is 0-8 in Big East play and has lost its last three games by an average of 24.6 points. That should be embarrassing to coach Fred Hill, whose days on the Scarlet Knights' sideline may be numbered.

Walk-ons – I had a friend in college named Scott McDowell who was one of the best intramural basketball players I'd ever seen. He could've easily made the Baylor basketball team as a walk-on and played a few minutes here and there, and he knew it. I asked him one day why he never tried out. "It annoys me," he said, "that whenever walk-ons get into the game, all the fans point and them and laugh and act as if it's some kind of miracle when they score a basket. Don't they realize that those walk-ons would absolutely embarrass and stomp every single person in that arena in a game of one-on-one? Don't they know how good you have to be to make the team? That's why I don't play. It'd make me too mad to get laughed at like that." I thought it was a great point. To this day, I think of Scott every time I see people poking fun at walk-ons and acting as if any success they have is some sort of fluke.


ASK THE KING

Who are the other SEC teams that could beat Kentucky?

I don't see the Wildcats losing at Rupp Arena this season. Heck, they may not lose again at all. But if they do it will almost certainly be on the road. I think games at Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Mississippi State will all be tough. Vanderbilt is on a roll lately. Mississippi State has some high-caliber, experienced talent and the environment at Tennessee could be the craziest atmosphere the Wildcats play in all season. All three of those schools could beat Kentucky.

Is there a chance that the Pac-10 could only get one team in the NCAA tournament?

Definitely, and what's funny is that I don't think anyone from the league would argue or gripe if that ended up being the case. The team that wins the Pac-10 tournament will receive an automatic bid. Other than that, who from the league would deserve a berth? You could maybe make a case for Cal, which is 13-6 after playing a tough schedule that includes games against Syracuse, Ohio State, New Mexico and Kansas. But if Cal ends up winning the conference tournament, I'm not sure there is another team worthy of an at-large bid. Washington has been a huge disappointment. USC isn't eligible to go. Arizona State has a decent record, but the Sun Devils haven't really defeated anyone of note. Hopefully the committee will take the three or four seeds usually reserved for the Pac-10 and pass them around to some deserving mid-majors.

Who will win the ACC?

I still think Duke is the best team in the ACC, but it's not like the gap is very big. North Carolina will have a chance if the Tar Heels can get healthy quickly. I've given up on Clemson and Georgia Tech is too inconsistent. Maryland may be playing better than anyone right now, and Gary Williams is as good with Xs and Os as any coach in the league. Maryland is 4-1 in conference play with its only loss coming in a two-point setback at Wake Forest. Still, I'm not sure the Terrapins have the horses to get it done over the long haul. I'm sticking with Duke.


THE CLIPBOARD

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George Blaney again leads Connecticut.
(Fred Beckham/AP Photo)

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, who is on a medical leave of absence, will miss his third straight game Wednesday when the Huskies take on Providence. Assistant George Blaney is serving as interim coach … The grandmother of Kansas center Cole Aldrich died of lung cancer last week. Aldrich said her battle with the terminal illness – she had been in hospice care – had been weighing on him and affecting his play … Rocker Eddie Money sung the national anthem before Kansas victory over Missouri on Monday. Also in attendance was former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie, a close friend of Jayhawks coach Bill Self … Creighton has suspended guard P'Allen Stinnett indefinitely for "conduct not acceptable to the team." Stinnett is averaging 9.2 points … BYU will be wearing pink in support of breast cancer awareness when the Cougars host Utah on Saturday … DePaul forward Mac Koshwal returned to the lineup against West Virginia on Tuesday after missing four games with an ankle injury … The three-game losing streak that North Carolina snapped Tuesday was its worst in six years … Dayton saw its 30-game home winning streak snapped Tuesday when Rhode Island's Marquis Jones hit a 3-pointer with five seconds left to give his team a 65-64 win. The Flyers have now lost three of their last four games and are probably a longshot to make the NCAA tournament.


THE WEEK AHEAD

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Robbie Hummel and Purdue brace for the Badgers.
(Michael Conroy/AP Photo)

THURSDAY

Wisconsin at Purdue – The Boilermakers can't afford a loss here if they want to stay in the Big Ten title race.

Wake Forest at Georgia Tech – The Yellow Jackets have more talent, but that hasn't always mattered this season in the wacky ACC.

SATURDAY

Vanderbilt at Kentucky – The Commodores are one of the few SEC teams who could beat the Wildcats on an off night, although their chances will be better in Nashville.

Duke at Georgetown – A win would provide a huge confidence boost for either team.

Kansas at Kansas State – This is the most highly anticipated game of the Big 12 season other than KU-Texas.

SUNDAY

Minnesota at Ohio State – The Buckeyes still have a shot at the Big Ten title – especially with Evan Turner on the court.

MONDAY

Connecticut at Louisville – The Huskies absolutely embarrassed the Cardinals on their home court last season. Could we see a repeat? You bet.

Texas at Oklahoma State – Don't sleep on the Cowboys, who defeated Kansas State in Manhattan. Still, Texas has a massive size advantage over Travis Ford's squad.

TUESDAY

Mississippi at Kentucky – For awhile the Rebels looked like the SEC's second-best team. These days that hardly seems to be the case.

Michigan State at Wisconsin – Can the Badgers beat the defending Big Ten champs without Jon Leuer? Doubtful.


ASSISTANT OF THE WEEK

Melvin Watkins, Missouri – Watkins joined Missouri's staff in 2004 as an assistant under Quin Snyder and stayed on board when Mike Anderson was hired in 2006. Before that he spent six seasons as the head coach at Texas A&M, where he recruited standouts such as Antoine Wright and Acie Law. Watkins began his coaching career in 1978 as an assistant at UNC-Charlotte, his alma mater, for 18 seasons before going 42-20 in two seasons as the school's head coach from 1996-98.

KOTC: Before you joined the staff at Missouri you were the head coach at Texas A&M for six seasons. How did you like living in Texas?

Watkins: We enjoyed our stay there. The weather in the winter months was pretty good for us. Being from North Carolina … the changing of the seasons was something we were a little more comfortable with.

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Watkins

KOTC: As much pride as the Lone Star State takes in basketball, no one knows hoops like Carolinians, correct?

Watkins: It's definitely a hotbed. When I got to Texas the football thing came into play. But where I grew up it was pretty much all basketball.

KOTC: On Monday, Missouri took on Kansas in the annual Border War. How would you compare the Jayhawks-Tigers rivalry to others around the country?

Watkins: It's as fierce as any rivalry I know. I grew up around North Carolina vs. Duke and N.C. State. That's what I paid attention to as a young kid. But having been involved in this one … it’s one of the toughest ones around. Having to go into Allen Fieldhouse and see how the fans are there, and then knowing what Kansas has to put up with when they come here, it all makes for one of the best rivalries

KOTC: What puts it over the top?

Watkins: Just how intense the fans are. You get a phone call from a fan that says, 'If you just win the Kansas game, we'll be happy.' We want to win that game, but it certainly isn't going to make or break our season. But for some of our fans, it's that heated. They're the ones that grew up with the rivalry, so they take it to the extreme. We try to make sure our kids go in and play at a high level. But it's just one game.

KOTC: What's it been like working for Mike Anderson?

Watkins: The thing that you hear about most often is how hard his kids play. But when you're there every day in practice, you understand why they play so hard, because it becomes a habit that you develop by playing his style. The other thing I like is that he'll let you coach. He's not one of those guys who says, 'The only way is my way.' We sit down all the time and talk Xs and Os. Whether he agrees or disagrees, I know he's going to respect my opinion.

KOTC: And it's not like you and Mike were close when he was hired to replace your former boss, Quin Snyder. It says a lot that he kept you on board.

Watkins: I had known of him and seen him through my travels. But I didn't personally know him. But once we sat down and started talking, it was obvious that we shared the same values. It's the initial thing that made it click for us, just our philosophies on how to treat people and how to go about our daily lives. Him being from Alabama and me being from North Carolina, we shared those Southern values, and we hit it off.

KOTC: Do you look for certain types or styles of players when you're out on the road recruiting for Mike's system?

Watkins: One of the things that jumps out at you is that character is so big in what we're trying to do here. The other thing is work ethic. We want kids that already have one instead of trying to give it to them in this stage of their lives.

KOTC: I bet it's amusing watching players arrive on campus as freshmen, thinking they're in shape.

Watkins (laughing): Yeah, they come in thinking they can play at a high pace because they played at a high level in high school. Then they see the amount of work that goes into it, with the 6 a.m. workouts and those kinds of things. You have to bring your hardhat. No doubt about it.

KOTC: What do you miss the most about being a head coach?

Watkins: You go from being the guy who makes the final decisions to the guy who makes suggestions. At some point, if the right opportunity presents itself, I'd like to do it again. But when you've got a good job and you like the people you're working with, you're not in any rush.

KOTC: What's been your highest high in coaching? And your lowest low?

Watkins: Seeing kids have success on the court and in the classroom is what makes it all worthwhile. It's why I do this. Some of the low points are when kids don't reach their maximum potential, whether it's in the classroom or on the court. The look of disappointment on their face is something that you hope to stay away from.

KOTC: What's your favorite pastime in the offseason?

Watkins: I get on the golf course a little bit but, for the most part, it's my family. I enjoy traveling with my family so they can see sights inside and outside of this country. I get a real kick out of that. Athletics has afforded me and family the opportunity to travel. We always try to plan some nice trips.

KOTC: What was the last vacation you went on?

Watkins: St. Kitts. My wife loves islands like Jamaica and those kinds of places. We went on a seven-day cruise and those were some of the stops. It's a great way to travel. You get to take your hotel room with you wherever you go, and you also better not forget your appetite.


PIT STOPS

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Pancakes stack up as a breakfast treat.
(Charles Rex Arbost/AP Photo)

Pancake Pantry, Nashville – Other than an occasional dose of eggs-over-medium with, sausage, toast and hash browns, I'm not a huge breakfast guy. But I'll always make an exception when I'm in Nashville. There's something about pancakes the size of manhole covers that appeals to me, and maybe it's because they come in varieties such as Sugar & Spice, Swiss Chocolate Chip and Raspberry Delight. The line here is almost always out the door, but don't worry. It goes fast.

Cheddar's – One of the country's more underrated chain restaurants has finally made its way to Kansas City, and my waistline is suffering because of it. I don't know of too many restaurants that offer combos that offer two meats (choose between steak, shrimp, ribs and tenders) and two sides (I recommended the broccoli cheese casserole and the mashed potatoes) for about $15. But that's the case at Cheddar's, which has locations all across the Midwest, South and Southwest.

Fiery Grilled Wings at KFC – When he unveiled his now-famous grilled chicken over the summer, I didn't think the Colonel had any more tricks. But he may have one-upped himself with these new wings, which are marinated in peppers and grilled, but not covered in sauce like traditional hot wings. Still, these bad boys have the perfect amount of kick to them and they have a decent amount of meat on them.

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