Kentucky is still rolling after another week with a couple of wins under its belt. The February 16 date with Tennessee is starting to loom, but the Wildcats can’t afford to slip up before that huge clash. The first opponent on the road to the Vols is South Carolina.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Stop the Gamecocks offense
There are two very different sides to this South Carolina team. When they win, as they have six times in the SEC this season, they average 80.5 points per game. When they lose, as they have twice in the SEC this season, they average just 68.5 points per game.
Frank Martin’s squad is not one built to be able to win games when the offense isn’t clicking. That Kentucky has held five of its last eight opponents to 55 points or fewer (in eight games that Kentucky has won) is bad, bad news for South Carolina.
Kentucky has achieved this through the defensive play of guard Ashton Hagans and from simply not allowing other teams to get good shots or open looks. That defensive intensity will be enough to see Kentucky win here even if the offense isn’t on fire.
Stop Chris Silva
South Carolina is one of those increasingly rare SEC teams with one defined go-to guy on their roster.
Senior Chris Silva has been tearing up the league for four years and he would like nothing more than to add a win at Rupp to his resume. Silva is averaging 23.5 points per game while shooting over 64-percent from the field over his last four games, turning on his scoring prowess as the Gamecocks have needed him most.
Silva is ninth in the league in both scoring and rebounding, giving the Gamecocks a clear double-threat player in the paint. The problem South Carolina has is that if Silva isn’t producing their offense falls apart, so expect to see the big man doubled a lot on Tuesday.
Play a full game
This issue with Kentucky starting slowly and being unable to dominate from wire to wire is real.
The ugliness raised its head yet again against Florida, with the Gators tactics of doubling Kentucky on every touch in the post seemingly baffling Calipari and the ‘Cats early in the game. What we need to see in those instances though is Calipari coaching the Wildcats through their funk without dropping into a double-digit deficit, because a score like that will be almost impossible to run down against the likes of LSU and (especially) Tennessee.
While it makes for more exciting basketball for the neutral if Kentucky is forced to chase every game, it would be nice if for once the Wildcats played out a full 40 minutes without stretches of one botched execution after another.