Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats return home on Valentine's Day, as they welcome the South Carolina Gamecocks to Rupp Arena for some SEC action.
John Calipari's Wildcats have shown very few weaknesses this season and are the only team in the country that is undefeated as a result. Kentucky is off to its second-best start in school history, but can tie the best start with a win here (25-0 in 1954). The team moved to 24-0 overall and 11-0 in the SEC with Tuesday's hard-fought 71-69 road win at LSU.
Frank Martin's Gamecocks have a tall task in front of them if they are to halt Kentucky's run. South Carolina is hovering just over .500 on the year at 12-11, but has struggled big time in league play at a meager 3-8. The Gamecocks are coming off a victory however, as they ended a two-game slide with Tuesday's 65-60 home win over Missouri.
Kentucky has dominated this rivalry, sporting a 48-11 record all-time against South Carolina. The Wildcats have been even more dominant on their home floor, with a 25-2 mark in games played in Lexington.
The Gamecocks proved to be clutch down the stretch, making all eight of their shots in the closing three minutes to keep Missouri at bay and earn the tough win at home earlier in the week. Sindarius Thornwell led the way with 14 points and six assists. Laimonas Chatkevicius played a huge role coming off the bench, posting 13 points and eight rebounds in 24 minutes of work. The USC bench as a whole came up big, netting 32 points against Missouri.
South Carolina has struggled at the offensive end this season in terms of efficiency. The Gamecocks are managing a modest 66.8 ppg, doing so on .414 shooting, a number weighed down by an ugly .295 from behind the arc. Thornwell leads the team in scoring at 11.5 ppg. Duane Notice is a close second at 11.0 ppg, while Tyrone Johnson is just under double figures at 9.6 ppg. However, all three players are shooting under .400 from the field overall.
Offensive deficiencies are only magnified when playing a team as aggressive defensively as Kentucky. The Wildcats dominate that end of the floor as well as anyone in the country and rank second in the nation in scoring defense (52.2 ppg) and blocked shots (171), first in field-goal percentage defense (.342) and scoring margin (+21.3) and 11th in turnover margin (+4.0). There aren't any prolific scoring options on the roster, but rather a collection of solid contributors. Aaron Harrison headlines the group with 11.1 ppg. Devin Booker is in double digits at well at 10.8 ppg, while Willie Cauley-Stein (9.2 ppg) and Karl-Anthony Towns (9.1 ppg) are just under the mark. UK's big men represent one of the nation's premier defensive tandems.
Cauley-Stein and Towns were at their best in leading the Wildcats to victory at LSU earlier in the week. Cauley-Stein posted 15 points, while Towns finished with a double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds in the narrow victory. The duo also combined for seven of the team's nine blocked shots in the game. Booker and Andrew Harrison aided in the scoring column for Kentucky, posting 14 and 13 points, respectively.