By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — This was not exactly the scenario Kentucky needed going against South Carolina, the only other team unbeaten in Southeastern Conference play entering Saturday’s game.
Freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox went out early with a right ankle injury. He played just eight minutes and spent the second half on the bench in a walking boot after using crutches to get back on the floor.
Sophomore Isaiah Briscoe played 29 minutes but did not score. He was 0-for-2 from the field. Even worse, he had seven turnovers against four assists and just three rebounds.
Add in South Carolina had scoring runs of 9-0 and 12-0 during the game and one has to wonder how UK still managed to win 85-69.
Kentucky shot 58 percent from the field (the seventh straight game at 50 percent or better), made 21 of 28 free throws and got big games from Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins off the bench. Willis had 12 points and seven rebounds while Hawkins had five points, seven assists and three rebounds.
“I thought Dom played fine. He had seven assists and two turns (turnovers). One came late when nobody could get open. But he plays point every day against De’Aaron Fox, so he did fine,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
“Willis always kills us,” said South Carolina coach Frank Martin. “He always get us. We tried hard to prepare for those corner 3’s. My big guys didn’t play well today. He made a couple of tough ones. Give that kid credit. He always gets us.”
So did Malik Monk. He had 27 points on 9-for-14 shooting from the field and 5-for-6 at the foul line. When Kentucky needed a score, he seemed to get it.
“We didn’t do a very good job on Monk,” Martin said. “That is five over his average. One thing about us is that we have been pretty good taking leading scorers and holding them down. We were real bad on him.”
Bam Adebayo had 18 points and three rebounds in 29 minutes. He was 5-for-6 from the field and is now 14 of 17 the last four games.
“We tried to get Bam in early foul trouble but he went at us and we did not go at him,” Martin said. “They are a high powered offensive team. They came at us. We didn’t do a very good job defending the basketball early in the game. By the time the game settled down we were down 17 or 18. We regrouped, but at the end some guys just got tired.”
Martin knew Fox going out hurt UK and impacted what Briscoe, who had six of his turnovers in the first half, did. He said Briscoe having to play more point guard changed the way he played.
“But Monk got a lot of shots off his play,” Martin said. “It still seems to me that he (Briscoe) is kind of the backbone of that basketball team. He is the one that makes everything go. I think he did that for them. When we made that push, he kind of gathered them back together.”
Calipari liked the way that Willis and Gabriel combined for 23 points and 12 rebounds. “They played well,” Calipari said.