The blue-clad crowd wasn’t as much cheering Kentucky on as it was trying to give the Wildcats a little boost. That gradual noise came over Rupp Arena a few times during Tuesday, a sign that the visitors were making the locals uncomfortable.
But South Carolina, a team with two all-time wins in this building, could only hush the 20,000-plus for so long. Eventually the hosts had to take over.
The fifth-ranked Wildcats used a big half-ending scoring run to spring a 76-48 rout of the Gamecocks.
USC dropped to 11-11 overall and 6-3 in the SEC, while UK improved to 19-3 and 8-1.
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The Wildcats closed the game on a 54-24 sprint. They took 13 more free throws than USC, outrebounded the Gamecocks by 23 and held Carolina to eight second-half field goals.
But Frank Martin wasn’t using numbers to help describe what happened to his team.
“Rebounding is just a stat,” said USC’s seventh-year coach. “Screening, boxing out, getting open, setting screens. There’s no stat for that. Rebounding is just a stat that represents physicality. We got beat to loose balls. Rebounding demonstrates our lack of physicality.
“We’re not a very physical team.”
This game wasn’t trending in a blowout direction early. Even with Chris Silva in foul trouble, Carolina led 24-22 with 7:07 left in the first half. It was able to tame one of college basketball’s best environments with an array of offensive answers.
Tre Campbell hit his first four field goals, including a third 3-pointer at the 7:51 mark. When Kentucky responded with a Jermarl Baker layup, it was A.J. Lawson who hit back with one of his own.
“I guess in the second half they just wanted it more than us,” said Campbell, who co-led USC with 12 points. “In the first half, we definitely came out prepared. But in the second half, we just couldn’t hold on.”
There were seven changes over the first 14-plus minutes. But South Carolina, thanks to poor free throw shooting and rebounding, could never jump out to a big enough cushion.
The Wildcats finally pounced with a 17-4 run that have them a 39-28 advantage at the break. It ended with an E.J. Montgomery dunk off a Keyshawn Bryant turnover with 1.7 seconds left.
“We prepared really well the last two days,” Martin said. “We really did. I had no complaints with how we did things the last two days. I think that’s why we played the game the right way to start.
“But at the end of the day, when you’re playing a game, it comes down to being able to sustain discipline. You hear people say the word ‘compete.’ Compete isn’t who runs fast. Compete is not who dives for a loose ball. That’s a small part of competing. Competing is when they tell you, ‘Tyler Herro’s going left, don’t get beat left.’ Well, he went left the whole game on us and we got beat left every time.”
Bryant, one of three Carolina freshmen to make his Rupp debut, committed a team-high five turnovers. His classmate Alanzo Frink fouled out with two points in eight minutes. Lawson finished with 12 points.
Herro, one of UK’s star rookies, had 11 points for the Wildcats. Montgomery, his classmate, had 11 and 13 rebounds. Sophomore P.J. Washington led all scorers with 20.
Silva, who picked up with his fourth foul with 12:31 left in the game, had just four points and four rebounds.
“I wanted to play this game, the whole game,” said Silva, who was limited to 15 minutes. “I got two early fouls and sat practically two-thirds of the first half. That had an impact on me because sitting there on the bench for that long, you get cold, you lose that momentum of the game.”
Kentucky has now won nine straight games. Tuesday represented the seventh time in the stretch it’s held an opponent to 40 percent or worse from the field. The Gamecocks made nine of their first 16 shots, but missed 27 of their final 37.
USC hosts Arkansas on Saturday.
Who: Arkansas at South Carolina
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: SEC Network
No. 5 KENTUCKY 76, SOUTH CAROLINA 48
SOUTH CAROLINA (11-11)
Silva 1-4 2-4 4, Kotsar 2-4 0-2 4, Bryant 2-5 1-2 6, Campbell 4-8 1-2 12, Lawson 6-14 0-0 12, Haase 2-8 1-2 6, Frink 1-2 0-2 2, Gravett 1-6 0-0 2, Hinson 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 19-53 5-14 48.
Johnson 2-9 5-6 9, Washington 6-16 6-7 20, Travis 2-7 7-8 11, Hagans 1-3 0-1 2, Herro 5-11 0-0 11, Montgomery 5-7 0-1 11, Richards 2-2 0-0 4, Baker 2-3 0-0 5, David 0-0 0-0 0, Quickley 0-3 3-4 3. Totals 25-61 21-27 76.
Halftime: Kentucky 39-28. 3-Point Goals: South Carolina 5-17 (Campbell 3-4, Bryant 1-1, Haase 1-4, Silva 0-1, Lawson 0-2, Hinson 0-2, Gravett 0-3), Kentucky 5-16 (Washington 2-4, Montgomery 1-1, Baker 1-2, Herro 1-3, Hagans 0-1, Travis 0-1, Quickley 0-1, Johnson 0-3). Fouled Out: Frink. Rebounds: South Carolina 25 (Gravett, Silva, Lawson, Bryant 4), Kentucky 46 (Montgomery 13). Assists: South Carolina 10 (Gravett, Kotsar, Haase 2), Kentucky 11 (Hagans, Quickley 4). Total Fouls: South Carolina 19, Kentucky 17.