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February 3, 2012

Gamecocks start difficult SEC stretch for Wildcats

If there's one thing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist isn't worried about, it's being tired.

February can be the time of year when freshmen - like Gilchrist - start to slow down. After three months and more than 20 games, the season can start to take it's toll.

"Not me," he said. "I'm just getting started. There's more to come."

The toughest stretch in UK's schedule is just getting started as well. The Wildcats (22-1, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) face South Carolina (9-12, 1-6 SEC) on Saturday before closing the regular season with five games against teams ranked in the AP top 25.

Still left are two games each against Vanderbilt and Florida along with a trip to Mississippi State. The Gators, Commodores and Bulldogs are second, third and fourth, respectively, in the conference standings.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari isn't worried about his freshmen hitting a wall, but he is worried about what lies ahead.

"I think all four of them are doing great, getting better, learning, attentive, focused.," he said. "They're all the first ones in there because they are excited about playing. They may (hit a wall) at some point in February; I don't know. But with this schedule of games we have coming up, we could get hit in the mouth."

The Gamecocks beat Kentucky two years ago when the Wildcats arrived in Columbia with a No. 1 ranking, but they've struggled this season. Four of their six conference losses have come by double-digits, and Kentucky rolled to a 79-64 win on Jan. 7 in the SEC opener for both teams.

There have been some changes since then. South Carolina guard Bruce Ellington, who also plays wide receiver for the football team, has moved into the starting lineup and is averaging 13.7 points per game since scoring eight points on 3-13 shooting against Kentucky in their first meeting.

He starts an offense that includes three starting forwards who each average more than five rebounds per game. Malik Cooke, a fifth-year senior, leads the team with 12.7 points per game.

"I think you see them moving in the right direction, and I think they're going to start knocking people off," Calipari said. "I just hope it's not us, that we're not the first."

Kidd-Gilchrist said he didn't bother to watch South Carolina's 74-66 loss to Florida on Thursday night. The Wildcats aren't nearly as worried about the Gamecocks as they are about where they are as a team.

"We're not trying to lose no more," sophomore guard Doron Lamb said. "So we just have to keep playing hard in practice and keep playing hard in the game."

For his part, Calipari isn't quite as sure. But he did say for one of the first times this season that the Wildcats might be catching up to where he wants them to be.

"I'm not going to tell you we're behind, but I'm certainly not telling you we're ahead," Calipari said. "We're not ahead. Some of the guys need to take everything up a notch. We're still trying to figure out sometimes where we are playing and how we're supposed to finish plays off. We're not quite there yet, but it's February, and we're playing like a February team."


Game Information

Kentucky at South Carolina
Saturday, 6 p.m.
Colonial Life Arena
Columbia, S.C.

TV: ESPN
Radio: UK IMG Network
Series: UK leads 45-10
Last Meeting: Kentucky won 79-64 on Jan. 7 in Lexington, Ky.

No. 1 Kentucky (22-1, 8-0 SEC)
Coach: John Calipari (489-151; 86-13 at UK)
South Carolina (9-12, 1-6 SEC)
Coach: Darrin Horn (170-101; 59-53 at South Carolina)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Marquis Teague Fr. 6-2/189 9.8 2.6
G Doron Lamb So. 6-4/210 13.3 3.3
F Terrence Jones So. 6-9/252 12.3 6.4
F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Fr. 6-7/232 12.8 7.7
F Anthony Davis Fr. 6-10/220 13.5 10.2
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Bruce Ellington So. 5-9/197 11.1 1.6
G Damien Leonard Fr. 6-4/192 6.0 1.3
F Anthony Gill Fr. 6-8/235 8.4 5.0
F Malik Cooke Sr. 6-6/215 12.7 5.0
F Damontre Harris So. 6-9/226 7.0 5.3

Key Storylines

Teague on Target
Marquis Teague's numbers don't look dramatically different in SEC play - his 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio is up slightly from his overall 1.5 - but he's putting some things together. Teague has 33 assists and 19 turnovers in conference play, and he's running Kentucky's offense more smoothly than early in the season. And quietly, Teague is turning into a solid on-the-ball defender.

Weather the Storm
Visiting players know that winning at South Carolina means avoiding "Sandstorm." The dance track blasts over the PA system at Colonial Life Arena when the Gamecocks are on a run, and the less the visitor hears it, the worse things are for the home team. South Carolina had some tickets available for Saturday's game late this week, but the game will at least be a near-sellout, and the crowd should be rowdy early.

Cats Illustrated publisher Brett Dawson contributed to this story.



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