COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina senior Malik Cooke drove to the basket here Saturday night. Instead of shooting, he pump-faked three times. Then he turned away from the basket and looked to pass out to the perimeter.
Dr. Dunk would diagnose a highly infectious case of Anthony Davis eyes.
In perhaps his most dominant performance yet in a Player of the Year caliber season, Anthony Davis led Kentucky to an 86-52 romp at South Carolina.
"I think he's a difference-maker," South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn said. "I'm not sure he's not arguably the best player in college basketball because of his ability to impact both ends."
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UK Coach John Calipari did not argue. "Yeah," he said of the suggestion that Davis is the best player. "I would say he's playing that way."
Had Davis not sat out most of the final 13 minutes, he probably would have posted the second triple-double in Kentucky basketball history. He settled for 22 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks (and countless altered shots, hesitations and offers of peace talks to end hostilities).
The blocks enabled Davis to break Shaquille O'Neal's Southeastern Conference freshman record of 115 rejections.
Although Davis' night seemed over when he went to the bench with 12:41 left, Calipari put him back in the game after the television timeout at the 6:56 mark.
"The staff wanted it," Calipari said of the triple-double opportunity. "I stuck him in. He almost got hurt. That's why you don't do it."
Davis bit on a perimeter shot fake by South Carolina freshman Anthony Gill. Davis came down on Gill, then fell to the floor.
"Pretty scary," Davis said after acknowledging the mistake of leaving his feet before the shot attempt. "I tried to break my fall. I used my wrist to go down. I'm glad I came down safe."
Davis immediately went to the bench for good. He smiled broadly as he neared the sideline.
When asked about the triple-double, Calipari redirected the question to Davis.
"Do you care about it?" the UK coach said.
As Davis shook his head, a smiling Calipari said, "Yes, he does."
With Kentucky improving to 23-1 overall and 9-0 in the SEC, Calipari called it this team's best performance.
"We played well at LSU," he said of last weekend's 24-point romp, "but not like this."
South Carolina fell to 9-13 overall and 1-7 in the SEC.
"Really pretty simple," Horn said in beginning his post-game analysis. "They played outstanding. They looked like the No. 1 team in the nation. We didn't play well."
As the teams left the court for halftime, the recorded cock-a-doodle-doo blared over the sound system. But the first half provided South Carolina nothing to crow about.
Kentucky rode its highest-scoring first half of the season to a 52-25 lead.
Only once had UK scored more points in a half this season: 63 in the second half against Marist in the season opener.
The Cats had eight dunks (South Carolina had only nine baskets). Five of those dunks came off lobs as Kentucky played above the rim and well above the Gamecocks.
"When they throw over the top, it makes it difficult," Horn said.
Davis led the assault with five first-half dunks, and seven overall. His only miss came with six minutes left on a why-not post-up shot.
Foul trouble limited South Carolina's chances to compete. Damontre Harris, the SEC's second-best shot-blocker (2.6 per game) and the Gamecocks' leading rebounder, picked up his second foul with 15:21 left in the first half.
Harris did not sit out the rest of the half. "With the way the game was going, it was a risk we were willing to take," Horn said.
Another foul came with 11:02 left. The public address announcer did not try to hide this alarming development, telling the crowd, "That's his third."
Earlier in the half, Davis blocked back-to-back shots, saving the second rejection from going out of bounds and igniting a fast break that Terrence Jones finished with a dunk. That put the Cats ahead 23-10.
With Davis dominant, South Carolina crumbled. Gill's eyes widened as he drove toward the basket and, seemingly content to just get the shot off, threw a no-chance shot off the backboard.
Late in the half, Jones anticipated a put-back attempt by freshman Carlton Geathers. Jones easily swatted the shot into the folding chairs beyond the baseline, then smiled broadly.
Assistant coach John Robic tried to suppress a smile as he walked off the court at halftime. He failed, one of UK's few lapses.
Calipari summed it up by directing a fill-in-the-blank question to Jones.
"Whomever we played today, what?" the UK coach asked.
To which, Jones replied, "That would have happened to them."