Kentucky-South Carolina Preview

The Associated Press

Kentucky hasn't quite recovered following its first loss in conference play, suffering a deflating home defeat after narrowly escaping another.

Facing one of the SEC's worst teams should help the 17th-ranked Wildcats get back on track.

Kentucky looks to bounce back Saturday night at South Carolina.

The Wildcats (21-7, 11-4 SEC) started 14-0 at home before taking a 69-59 loss at then-No. 3 Florida on Feb. 15 that essentially eliminated any chance of catching the Gators for the conference title. They were strong three days later in an 84-80 win at Ole Miss, but barely escaped LSU in a 77-76 overtime victory last Saturday.

They weren't quite as fortunate Thursday in a 71-67 overtime loss to Arkansas.

Kentucky was 12 of 22 from the free-throw line - including 8 of 17 in the second half and overtime - while Arkansas hit all 16 of its attempts on the night. Coach John Calipari's club, which also lost to the Razorbacks in overtime in Fayetteville on Feb. 14, had been 47 for 56 from the stripe over its last two games.

The Wildcats, whose 68.1 free-throw percentage ranks eighth in the conference, also committed 18 turnovers Thursday.

"They beat us to loose balls," Calipari said. "We missed 10 one-foot shots. We missed all free throws that mattered. We have a lead late, we're leaving timeouts and not executing. We took two steps back today.

"All I can tell you is disappointing," he added. "I didn't expect it. I thought they'd come out and play. They didn't. The other team played harder than they played."

Willie Cauley-Stein had 16 points and 13 rebounds and was the lone Kentucky player to shoot better than 40.0 percent from the field. Julius Randle - one of 10 semifinalists named for the Naismith Trophy on Friday - was 6 of 15 with 14 points. He scored just eight on 3-of-8 shooting versus LSU after averaging 16.5 points on 62.9 percent shooting over his previous four contests.

"We'll watch tape and see what we did wrong, see what we could have done, and then it'll be out of the window," Alex Poythress, who tallied just one point in 24 minutes of action, told the team's official website.

Kentucky will be looking for its seventh straight win over South Carolina after a 77-55 home victory in last season's only meeting. Five of the six consecutive victories in the streak have come by 15 points or more.

The Gamecocks (10-18, 3-12) fell into a last-place tie with Mississippi State following Wednesday's 83-67 loss at Auburn.

Brenton Williams scored 26 on 7-of-11 shooting but his teammates were a combined 14 of 41. Williams, who was 5 of 9 from 3-point range, is averaging 20.3 points over his last 11 games while going 46 of 92 from beyond the arc.

"It is definitely a pride thing," Williams said when asked what still motivates him and his club. "I think that's it more than anything. The SEC Tournament is coming up and that is what is most important to us right now."

Williams 2 of 7 with seven points in two career games versus Kentucky.

This contest could be full of turnovers with South Carolina averaging an SEC-worst 14.4 and the Wildcats having committed 18 against Arkansas.

Kentucky owns a 47-10 all-time series edge.

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