Cal ejected, Cats dejected: UK falls to last-place S.C.

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 1, 2014 

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Freshman Sindarius Thornwell likened South Carolina's 72-67 upset of Kentucky on Saturday to a work of fiction.

"It's like a movie," he said. "As a basketball player, you always dream of upsetting somebody and the crowd rushing the court."

That's exactly what happened as the Gamecocks played the role of the plucky underdog and Kentucky the heavy that goes down with a thud.

Aaron Harrison covered his face with both hands as he left the court. Kentucky's late-season struggles reached a new nadir. In addition to the continuing poor shooting (the 26.9 percent accuracy marked a new low in John Calipari's five seasons) and freshman moments, UK coaches lost their poise. Calipari got ejected after his second technical foul, which sandwiched one on assistant coach Orlando Antigua.

South Carolina, which was in last place in the Southeastern Conference, hadn't beaten a ranked team since Jan. 11, 2011, when it defeated then-No. 22 Vanderbilt.

Kentucky fell to 21-8 overall and 11-5 in the SEC. UK's three double-digit scorers — James Young, Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle — made only nine of 35 shots. Overall, the 14-for-52 shooting made the Cats 68-for-195 in the last three games (34.9 percent).

"Sure it's an issue when you don't make shots," said assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for Calipari in the post-game news conference.

Robic credited South Carolina's aggressive man-to-man defense for UK's abysmal 5-for-29 shooting in the first half. "We did not settle" for perimeter shots, he said in putting a positive spin on the inaccuracy. "We just did not convert."

South Carolina, which improved to 11-18 overall and 4-12 in the SEC, got 24 points from guard Brenton Williams. Thornwell, who made only four of 16 shots, added 14.

Kentucky's horrible shooting nullified a 46-28 rebounding advantage.

In the first half, Kentucky's recent struggle to make a shot outside the paint extended to the paint.

"We were trying to pack it in the paint," Williams said. "We were trying to bait them into shooting (from the perimeter), but not give it to them."

The Cats only trailed 31-28 at halftime thanks to overwhelming rebounding superiority. UK outrebounded South Carolina 30-15 in the first half. That included a whopping 16 offensive rebounds.

The Cats did not make a basket in the final 7:43 of the first half, and had only two over the final 14 minutes.

When Alex Poythress missed a layup in a congested lane, one of many point-blank shots UK failed to convert, Calipari screamed at referee Tim Gattis, "Call the fouls!"

Shortly after Kentucky failed to score after getting five shots on one possession, Calipari seemed to send a message to the referees by yelling at his players, "Keep fighting! Don't worry about this! Keep playing!"

If anything, Kentucky's play slipped early in the second half. Antigua picked up a technical foul with 17:42 left. Andrew Harrison and Willie Cauley-Stein picked up their fourth fouls more than 25 feet from the basket.

South Carolina, which had not had a double-digit lead in the last three games and not in 14 previous games this season, led by 16 points on three occasions.

With his freshman-oriented team floundering, Calipari got hit with a second technical foul after no-calls on a Poythress putback and a South Carolina player ripping the ball from Randle's grasp.

The automatic ejection that goes with a second technical foul meant no Calipari for the final 10:25.

Although UK put the ball in the basket only once (not counting a goaltending call on Carolina) in the first 12 minutes-plus of the second half, a rally unfolded. South Carolina helped by taking ill-advised shots early in the shot clock.

"We did everything we could to screw it up," South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said. "I promise you that."

When Aaron Harrison hit a three-pointer with 7:15 left (UK's third basket of the second half), the Cats trailed only 55-48. Suddenly UK was hot, making six of seven three-point attempts to close within 68-64 with 26.2 seconds left.

Young stole the inbounds and fed Randle for a three-point play that reduced the deficit to 68-67.

Laimonas Chatkevicius, a 6-11 sophomore, loomed large down the stretch for South Carolina. He scored six of his eight points in the final 2:36. He had four points in the previous three games.

Two free throws by Thornwell gave South Carolina a 70-67 lead with 20 seconds left.

A three-pointer by Poy-thress was short. The rebound scramble forced the ball out of bounds.

A check of the monitor confirmed the call. Aaron Harrison deflected South Carolina's first attempt to inbound out of play. On the second, he was called for pushing Williams.

Williams, the nation's leading free-throw shooter (95.6 percent accuracy), made both to seal the upset.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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