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February 25, 2009And South Carolina's a guard-based team?
The Gamecocks' big men blocked a school-record 16 shots and blasted Kentucky out of Colonial Life Arena on Wednesday, winning 77-59 for an emphatic 20th victory of the season. Sam Muldrow, Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes spent so much time above the rim they should have been paying rent.
Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson scored a game-high 28 points, but had eight shots rejected by the ever-leaping trio of USC bigs. The dominance inside and a scorching night from the field propelled USC to one of its biggest wins in school history.
"I don't think it was perfect," said Archie, after playing one of the best halves of his career and ending with 12 points, four rebounds, four blocks and a steal. "We can still play better."
Coach Darrin Horn spoke of wanting to take his program to Kentucky's heights a day before the game. While nobody's confusing USC with the seven-time national champion/winningest program of all time yet, they'll all wake up tomorrow morning and see it.
USC is by itself in first place in the SEC East with three games to play. The Gamecocks (20-6, 9-4 SEC) hold the tiebreaker over the Wildcats (19-9, 8-5) by virtue of their season sweep, and with Vanderbilt falling to Georgia on Wednesday, the Gamecocks firmly control their own fate.
"Simple," said guard Devan Downey, who scored a team-high 21 points. "We win, we stay in first."
USC was hot from the start, spurting immediately ahead on a flurry of 3-pointers. But Kentucky, featuring Patterson and SEC scoring leader Jodie Meeks, was going to make a run -- the question was how well USC would handle it.
Muldrow, challenged by Horn in the film sessions prior to the game, answered.
"(He told me) to know my role on the court," said Muldrow. "He's harsh with everybody. It was a real big game for us."
With the Gamecocks ahead 15-8, Patterson got the ball low and prepared to take off. Muldrow waited, waited and then got those skinny arms just over the big man for the team's first block.
The buzzing crowd erupted and the Gamecocks followed his lead. Patterson got his points, sure, but he left a sheaf of others in the hands of Muldrow and his cohorts.
The giant sophomore kept windmilling those impossibly long arms of his, collecting 10 rebounds and eight points on a variety of dunks. But the blocks were what defined the game, Archie finishing with four, Holmes with three, Zam Fredrick and Austin Steed with one each and Muldrow with a career-high seven.
He missed setting a school record but put his name behind a select group. Only seven other times has a USC player gotten more than seven in one game.
"He got dunked on two or three times at Kentucky," Horn said. "I told him I thought he was better than that, in so many words, not for print. He was capable of more. He needed to step up and let them know they couldn't do that to him.
"He was terrific."
With defense ruling the paint, the offense kept dialing long-distance and sticking in putbacks. Fredrick had 15 points while Brandis Raley-Ross added eight.
Meeks got 18, solid but far below his average of 25. No one else scored more than five, and as it became apparent the Wildcats were out of commission, their frustration mounted while the crowd got louder.
Patterson received a sarcastic standing ovation when he threw down a jam late in the game, making the score 75-51. He avoided a technical after slamming the ball to the floor, although the anger was another piece of evidence of just how un-Kentucky-like the performance was.
"When you get absolutely zero help, it was just one of the most courageous efforts I have ever seen," UK coach Billy Gillispie said. "But the world is not ending. We got whipped."
USC got the chance to reflect on just what it had accomplished. It's the first time USC will have a winning SEC season since 1997-98 and just the third time in school history. The Gamecocks have won at least 20 games for the first time since 2005-06; swept the Kentucky series for only the second time and first since 1996-97; and posted their biggest margin of victory over the Wildcats.
Yet with all of that to consider, Horn kept his message simple. It was a great win, but the season can be so much greater.
"I said Tuesday, we're in this for the long haul," Horn said. "Again, we've got to lay it one brick at a time. Regardless of where we finish or how this year finishes, we'll only be 12 months into building what we want to do in everything we want to do in our program."
Sixteen of those bricks were laid at once on Wednesday.