Jan. 7, 2012
LEXINGTON, Ky. – A strong second half wasn’t enough for South Carolina to offset a cold shooting effort in the first half as No. 2 Kentucky took the SEC opener for both teams, 79-64, at Rupp Arena on Saturday.
South Carolina (8-7, 0-1 SEC) was led by freshman guard Damien Leonard’s 15 points, while freshman forward Anthony Gill tallied 10, senior forward Malik Cooke added 11 and sophomore forward Damontre Harris contributed 10. Gill also pulled down a team-high seven rebounds, while Cooke and sophomore forward RJ Slawson both collected six.
Kentucky’s (15-1, 1-0 SEC) Terrence Jones led all scorers with 20 points, while freshman forward Anthony Davis tallied 12 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double. The game was the third this season for South Carolina against an opponent ranked in the top two in the nation, as the Gamecocks also faced then-No. 1 North Carolina and then-No. 2 Ohio State.
South Carolina out-rebounded the Wildcats, 32-30, including a 16-7 advantage on the offensive glass, which led to 15 second-chance points for the Gamecocks. South Carolina’s bench contributed 28 points, and the Gamecocks tallied 16 points off of Kentucky turnovers.
Despite a cold shooting effort in the first half, South Carolina collected 10 offensive rebounds in the set. The Gamecocks jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead on a dunk by Harris and layup by Gill, but UK would outscore the Gamecocks 9-3 over the course of the next five minutes to hold a 9-7 lead with 14:38 remaining in the opening half.
With a 21-17 lead, Kentucky ended the first half on a 13-1 run to push the advantage into double digits at 34-18 at the halftime break. South Carolina hit just 25 percent from the floor (8-32) in the first half.
The Gamecocks found an offensive rhythm in the second half, eventually holding a 46-45 advantage during the set, hitting 53.1 percent (17-32). Leonard scored all but three of his points in the half, connecting on four shots, including two 3s and a pair of free throws.
Kentucky lengthened its lead to open the half, but Slawson hit a 3 with 11:58 on the clock, and Leonard added two from 3-point range over the course of the next two minutes to pull the Gamecocks within 13 at 58-45.
UK’s Kidd-Gilchrist would add a dunk and two free throws, but a 3 by sophomore guard Bruce Ellington and a jumper by Leonard pulled the Gamecocks within 12 with just under eight minutes remaining in the contest.
The Gamecocks followed with a turnover and missed shots, which allowed the Wildcats to hold the lead and close the 79-64 victory.
South Carolina continues SEC play when it hosts Vanderbilt on Tuesday. Game time is set for 9 p.m.