WHY USC WILL WIN
South Carolina owns the best 3-point defense in the country, holding opponents to a mere 26.3 percent. Florida, which came into Wednesday’s game shooting 35.7 percent and had an NCAA-best streak of 850 straight games with a 3-pointer, was 0-for-17. Kentucky comes into Saturday’s game shooting … 35.7 percent.
2. FOX GETS IN CHICKEN COOP
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Point guard De’Aaron Fox will be the latest to try to penetrate the Gamecocks’ moving brick wall of a perimeter defense. He’s already faced some top teams but none had the defensive credentials of USC. The toughened, blue-collar Gamecocks corral the flashy five-star phenom and disrupt UK’s offense.
3. RUN, RUN, RUPP-ERS
Kentucky’s speed is how it asserts its authority. But the Gamecocks like to play fast, too. When their interior is taking care of its part of the bargain defensively, USC rivals any team in the way it can get out and go. The Gamecocks let their Under Armour kicks do the talking.
4. WE’LL STAND BY
The guys in the stripes look at the recent stat sheets and think that 40-50 fouls per game is far too much. They let the crowd supply the noise, and it’s a whistle-free game. That allows USC’s Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar to stay in the game and protect the paint, and P.J. Dozier more time to find his offense.
Kentucky is very talented but USC has guys that have been around for at least twice the number of games. They know being the best player on the court sometimes isn’t enough. The Gamecocks’ veterans make the big plays late and the Wildcats’ freshmen show that as super as they are, they’re sometimes just freshmen.
WHY KENTUCKY WILL WIN
1. BIG FELLAS
Even with Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar staying in the game, they can’t lock down Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, Derek Willis and Isaac Humphries. De’Aaron Fox throws over the Gamecocks’ perimeter to the forwards, who hold a dunk-a-thon on USC’s interior.
USC’s weakness earlier in the league schedule – defensive rebounding – cycles around and the Gamecocks can’t keep Kentucky from putbacks. Second-chance points become the key stat.
3. COME AND GET ME
USC looked tired as Florida made a run at the end of Wednesday’s first half. A couple of early UK transition buckets become four and those become eight and before you know it, USC’s only looking to run back to Columbia.
4. HOT POTATO
USC has had a problem turning the ball over lately, although it sort-of tightened up against Florida, recording 15 after two straight games of at least 20. If Kentucky starts a steal-and-score early on, turnovers get contagious and the Wildcats are soon throwing down jams that make the NBA Dunk Contest look like 6th graders on a 7-foot goal.
5. KING CATS
This isn’t the first time – or the 100th time – some cheeky poseur rose up and challenged the Wildcats’ dominance of the SEC. Sure, Kentucky’s slipped a few times and let a Tennessee or a Mississippi State – or even a South Carolina, 20 years ago – to borrow its crown but it’s always found its way back to Lexington. Freshmen one-and-dones or not, it’s Kentucky basketball. Southeastern Conference basketball is built on Kentucky’s back, and don’t think the Wildcats don’t know it. They prove it again.