By LARRY VAUGHT
This was supposed to be the game where South Carolina took control of the Southeastern Conference race and Kentucky’s road woes continued. Or at least that is what ESPN analysts Jay Bilas and Seth Greenberg predicted before the game.
Instead, even without coach John Calipari, Kentucky played its best of the season and dominated the Gamecocks while winning 89-62 Saturday in Columbia, S.C., to move into first place in the SEC. And remember South Carolina beat Texas A&M and LSU in its previous two games.
Guards Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe were all dominant. Ulis and Murray combined for 24 points in the half. For the game Ulis had career-highs of 27 points and 12 assists, including one pass he threw off the backboard to Marcus Lee for a second-half dunk after a Briscoe steal. Murray finished with 26 points and five rebounds and Briscoe had 10 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Lee also gave the Cats a huge boost with 11 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks when he was the only UK big not in foul trouble.
Kentucky was 11 of 25 from 3-point range and 16 of 21 at the foul line. Carolina was only 18 of 55 from the field.
Calipari, who got ejected in the second half of a 2014 loss at South Carolina, lasted just 2 minutes, 26 seconds this time before official Doug Sirmons hit him with two technicals after South Carolina was called for a foul. I’ve never seen Calipari more upset as eventually it took all five starters to keep him away from Sirmons.
With Calipari gone, assistant coach Kenny Payne told ESPN’s Kaylee Hartung that the UK coaches were handling the defense and Ulis was basically the offensive coordinator and taking care of that. Considering UK trailed 8-7 when Calipari got tossed, maybe the UK coach should let Ulis call the offense again.
ESPN analyst Cara Lawson said the loss was “embarrassing” for South Carolina and that the Gamecocks “lost pride” as the margin mounted.
She credited UK’s toughness for the win.
“South Carolina depends on physical play and toughness. Kentucky does not always have that but they played that way today and have more skilled players,” Lawson said during the game.