CRAWFORD | No Cal? No problem for Kentucky in 89-62 demolition of S. Carolina
John Calipari was ejected before the game was three minutes old, but Kentucky didn't take much longer to dismiss South Carolina in one of its most impressive performances of the season.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Yes, John Calipari was ejected just 2 1/2 minutes into Saturday’s game at South Carolina. Given the way Tyler Ulis took charge, he might be able to take a few more games off.
The Southeastern Conference has been the toughest in the nation for road teams this season. Watch the officiating sometime, and you’ll have a clue as to why.
Kentucky didn’t get many breaks. That didn’t stop the Wildcats from sending South Carolina along to spring football with a humbling 89-62 demolition.
Calipari will grab the headlines with his ejection. He was so angry that he started showing up in polls for the South Carolina Republican primary.
He didn't speak to the media after the game, but did say via Twitter, "I have never been more proud of a team. They are now empowered. They've proven that they don't need me and I love it."
The real stories here were Ulis’ leadership, Kentucky’s defense, and the physical response by the Wildcats on the road against the SEC’s most physical team.
Assistant coach John Robic agreed with JMI Sports Kentucky network play-by-play man Tom Leach that Calipari's ejection had the Wildcats playing with an edge.
"Yeah, because Cal’s their guy," Robic said. "They play for him. I think every team’s going to react that way. I’m sure he’s proud of them too."
The Wildcats (19-6, 9-3 SEC) keep coming along. Defensively, they’re getting it. Gone is the team that gave up a layup line to opponents during the first half of the season. With Cal confined to solitary on Saturday, they even whipped out some zone defense after the fouls showed signs of piling up.
It was probably the game’s major adjustment. Kentucky’s guards are active enough on the perimeter to prohibit clear looks, while the interior stayed covered with the Wildcats’ smaller lineup. UK held South Carolina to 32.7 percent shooting, just 4-14 from three-point range, and were outrebounded by only one.
"It wasn't because of fouls -- we intended to play some zone this game," Robic told Leach. "We thought that we could do that. We were worried about some matchups, and watching other teams they played them quite a bit of zone, as well. It was good for us. We didn't rebound particularly well out of it, but that, with the combination of foul trouble, really helped us."
The Wildcats never backed down physically. In fact, that attitude probably had something to do with Calipari’s early rant, that drew two quick technicals form official Doug Sirmons.
One former SEC coach, Buzz Peterson, took to Twitter in Calipari’s defense, saying, “What Doug Sirmons did today is absolutely embarrassing to college officiating. He has a short fuse and coaches for years have complained.”
Regardless of the early hook, the leadership in this game was from Ulis. Assistant Kenny Payne told reporters after the game, "I never touched on offense, didn’t have to. Between Cal and Tyler Ulis, they’re on the same page. Tyler Ulis ran the offense. Every now and then I may have interjected something, but at the end of the day, it was his show."
He controlled the game offensively. He scored 27 points. He accounted for 29 more via a career-high 12 assists.
Even Ulis' only national critic, Dan Dakich of ESPN, had to acknowledge via Twitter, "he's doing really well."
"It just shows you his relationship with Cal," Robic told Leach, of Ulis. "He's an extension of our coaching staff on the floor.
Ulis hit two shot-clock beating jumpers in the first half to put South Carolina on its heels. He threw two lobs (one of them off the backboard) to Marcus Lee in the second to kill its will.
Lee had one of his best games as a Wildcat, using the zone to help stay out of foul trouble, he finished with 11 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.
Jamal Murray keeps getting more efficient. He’s averaging 28.3 points per game over the past three games and shooting 58 percent from three-point range — while making 6 threes a game. He finished with 26 Saturday, making 4 of 11 threes.
The Wildcats also got 10 points from Isaiah Briscoe and 9 from Derek Willis, who along with Skal Labissiere battled foul trouble.
It was by far South Carolina’s most lopsided loss of the season, and first of the season at home. Kentucky gave up only 20 points in the paint, while scoring 34.
"They came in here to make the point that they're still the best team in this conference," Martin said after the game.
They made a pretty convincing case.
Copyright 2016 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.