Kentucky defeated South Carolina, 77-55, to move into sole possession of second place in the SEC.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – If you're looking for a Get Well card in the Southeastern Conference, South Carolina is the team you want to play.
The Gamecocks are the worst defensive team in the league. They don't have a player averaging 11 points per game. They scored 15 points in one half against Florida. They have about 80 more turnovers than assists. Even their coach, Frank Martin, says his team can put an arena to sleep. Martin looked like he might have entertained a chance to return to Kansas State.
Kentucky got well Tuesday night in Rupp Arena. They dominated the Gamecocks 77-55 to improve their record to 16-6 overall and 7-2 in the SEC.
Julius Mays led the Wildcats with 15 points, even though he attempted only five field-goal attempts. Four other Kentucky players scored in double figures. Willie Cauley-Stein had a solid game with 13 points and six rebounds. Nerlens Noel contributed another double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He also blocked five shots.
Even Martin, a noted screamer and stomper, seemed bored by Kentucky's dominance. He stayed in his seat for most of the second half.
"We just got out of the way and let them practice their dunking," Martin said. "If my guys aren't playing, I don't see any reason I should be losing my mind there."
HOT HAND: Basketball is a simple game when a team makes shots. The Wildcats were making shots Tuesday night. In the first half, Kentucky made 15 of 22. That's 68.2 percent. It was their best half of shooting in SEC play as well as their best overall shooting half since the Wildcats made 69.7 percent of their shots in the first half against Long Island-Brooklyn Nov. 23.
The Wildcats shot 61.4 percent for the game. It's usually safe to expect a victory on nights like that.
CHECK THE STANDINGS: Take a good look at the SEC standings. Despite their losses to Texas A&M and Alabama, coach John Calipari's team sits alone in second place in the Southeastern Conference. At the halfway mark of the league schedule, the Wildcats are 7-2, one game behind favored Florida, which flat-lined in an 80-69 defeat at Arkansas Tuesday night.
"Look we have to worry about just getting better. We don't need to worry about position in the league. You guys know I'm not worried about league stuff."
No problem, coach. I'll take care of the worrying.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Ryan Harrow was spotted holding his lower back on several occasions when he left the court. John Calipari rested him for eight minutes in the first half and seven more in the second half.
RETURN TO THE RANKINGS: So what are the chances that Kentucky returns to the Top 25 next week?
If the voters look at either the Sagarin or Pomeroy computer rankings, the Wildcats will be there. In fact, they should already be there. Kentucky is ranked 19th by Pomeroy and 13th in Sagarin's predictor rankings, which include margin of victory.
But the Wildcats finished 34th in the latest Associated Press writers' poll and tied for 38th in the last USA Today coaches' poll, so they've got some work to do.
Or they have to hope that the voters actually look at the SEC standings and see that Kentucky is second in the league and Missouri is fifth, but somehow the Tigers are ranked 20th in the coaches' poll and 21st in the AP poll.
DICK VITALE SAYS: Vitale didn't work the Kentucky-South Carolina game. He was in Ann Arbor for the Ohio State-Michigan game. But I saw Vitale in Bloomington last Saturday, and he's always eager to discuss John Calipari's team.
His take: Nerlens Noel is the only Kentucky freshman who should consider leaving for the NBA after this season. The other three first-year players need another season.
"Do you see (Archie) Goodwin, (Alex) Poythress) or (Willie) Cauley-Stein contributing in the NBA next season?" Vitale asked.
I don't see Marquis Teague or Terrence Jones contributing much this season – and they were starters on a national championship team
But the ability to contribute immediately in the NBA is rarely a serious factor in decisions to jump to the league. Noel, Goodwin and Poythress all project as Top 15 picks on some mock draft boards.
Remember this: If Poythress and Goodwin return, they certainly risk seeing their stats and playing time decline because of the monstrous recruiting class that John Calipari has assembled.
THE BAD NEWS: In the old days of two-division SEC basketball, the Wildcats got two cracks at South Carolina every season. Not any more. It's one-and-done this season. No trip to Columbia for UK. Maybe the Wildcats will see the Gamecocks in the SEC Tournament.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? – One reason South Carolina sits in last place in the SEC with a 2-8 record is that the Gamecocks' two best inside players transferred out of the program after the school fired former Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn at the end of last season.
Damontre Harris transferred to Florida, picking the Gators over Kansas. He wasn't a great scorer, but Harris averaged 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks as a sophomore.
Forward Anthony Gill also left. He chose Virginia over North Carolina. Gill averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds as a freshman, making better than 39 percent of his three-point shots.
UP NEXT: More fun, fun, fun for the Wildcats. Auburn is booked for a visit to Rupp Arena Saturday afternoon at 4. UK has already dusted the Tigers by 22 at Auburn. According to Jeff Sagarin's computer predictor numbers, Kentucky will be favored by 18.
QUOTING FRANK MARTIN: "I never thought I'd see the day where the opposing team put the crowd to sleep. We did a heck of a job with putting everyone to sleep in there. It is what it is."
QUOTING JOHN CALIPARI: "When those lights went out in New Orleans (in the Super Bowl), what if that happened to us (in the Final Four)? You know we would have all said it was a conspiracy. You know that. It would have been a conspiracy and if we had lost the game, it would have been that the world's against us and everything else."