Kentucky overwhelms South Carolina 90-59

Cal sees roomfor improvementin blowout win

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 20, 2011 

If Kentucky wanted to solve the recurring problem of poor play in the final minutes of close games, this was the way to do it.

UK never let it get close, scoring the game's first 15 points, leading by double digits the final 35:34 and by 20 or much more the final 28:21 en route to the 90-59 victory over South Carolina on Saturday.

The best Kentucky's played this season?

"By far," said DeAndre Liggins, the experimental spark off the bench this day.

Yet, UK Coach John Calipari lamented sloppy play, some Cats "reverting" and assorted another glass-half-empty observations.

It got to the point assistant coach John Robic asked, "What do you want? A shutout?"

Remembering Robic's well-considered question, Calipari said, softly, "Probably."

South Carolina's most lopsided loss of the season saw Kentucky trade the problem of shaky finishes for a Rubik's Cube brainteaser: How to satisfy a difficult-to-please Calipari.

"The coach has got to say something," Liggins said when asked about Calipari's complaints. "You've got to expect that. If everybody's perfect, he's not doing his job."

In that sense, Calipari sounded like a workaholic.

Darius Miller, the subject of many do-better critiques in his three UK seasons, led the onslaught by scoring a career-high 22 points and making a career-high six three-point shots.

"I had a lot of open looks," the always modest Miller said. A player who had made more than two three-pointers only three times all season, matched his previous career high of four inside the first 12 minutes.

"Darius Miller was unbelievable," South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn said. "When they make shots like they did tonight (11 of 20 from beyond the arc), they're really good. Really good."

Miller opened UK's 15-0 run to start the game with a three-pointer. His fifth made it 55-23 with 17:59 left. After making his first six, Miller finally missed.

"Miller hit everything he threw up," Horn said. "One in front of me he didn't have his feet set."

Yet Calipari called a two-minute misconduct penalty on Miller. "He had one stretch that I wanted to choke him," the UK coach said, "because he had played so well, so aggressive, so strong. Why would you go for two minutes and revert."

Later, Calipari said Miller went "soft." Asked for a reaction, Miller smiled, well, softly, and said, "I kind of expect that from Coach."

Miller had plenty of help as Kentucky surpassed South Carolina's previous worst defeat: a 79-57 December beat-down at Ohio State.

Terrence Jones scored 19 points, Doron Lamb 18, Brandon Knight 12 and DeAndre Liggins 11.

Kentucky improved to 19-7 overall and 7-5 in the Southeastern Conference. The latter left UK tied for third with Georgia in the Eastern Division.

South Carolina fell to 13-12 overall and 4-8 in the SEC. Malik Cooke led the Gamecocks with 12 points.

Kentucky used its highest-scoring first half in SEC play this season to build a 50-21 lead at intermission. The previous high was a 48-19 lead over LSU.

UK might have surpassed the season's highest first-half point total (51 against Winthrop) had a foul been called on Knight's drive to the basket in the final seconds.

But referee J.B. Caldwell did not blow his whistle. That left Calipari, who on Friday said SEC officiating was "by far" the best he'd witnessed as a college coach, holding both hands to his head in disbelief as the teams headed to the locker room.

Given Kentucky's uneven play this season, the first half was pretty unbelievable. The Cats had held a double-digit lead in the previous two games for only two minutes.

"Oh, we played great," Liggins said when asked for his appraisal. "From the tip-off on, great energy."

Kentucky held South Carolina's three players with double-digit scoring averages to seven-of-32 shooting and a collective 23 points.

"One of the best defensive performances of the year," Miller said.

Jones agreed. "One of our best defensive games," he said. "That's where it always starts."

Where it ended in this case was with Calipari pondering the freckle on Angelina Jolie's arm.

"I'm coaching you guys," Calipari said he told the players, "whether you like it or not."

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