Date story published: Sunday, January 28, 1996
No one argued with Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino last night when he declared, "We're probably the best 'run' team in the country."
A 30-2 second-half Cat run that helped UK bury South Carolina 89-57 at Rupp Arena proved Pitino's point.
Until the breakout, South Carolina's strategy of slowing the pace and spreading the floor kept the game competitive.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"I thought we played pretty darn good for 20 or 25 minutes," South Carolina Coach Eddie Fogler said. "Then it caved in."
UK's run turned a 46-45 nail-biter lead into a 76-47 advantage and a victory waiting to happen. In more than one way, the run indicated the power of UK's superior depth. An injury kept South Carolina center Nate Wilbourne out of the game and left Fogler with a seven-man rotation that included three freshmen and two sophomores.
UK's depth showed in the 30-point explosion as leading scorers Tony Delk and Antoine Walker contributed only five points in the run. Delk's five came after the 13-0 mini-run that ignited the breakaway.
During the nine-minute span, South Carolina committed nine of its season- high 27 turnovers.
UK had five three-point baskets by four different players. Walter McCarty, who had a season-high 20 points, contributed a trey and seven points to the run.
The result was Kentucky's 16th straight victory, which began the school's longest single-season string of victories since Rupp's Runts won 23 in a row.
The Cats improved to 17-1 overall and 7-0 in the Southeastern Conference.
South Carolina, the nearest pursuer to the Cats in the Eastern Division, fell to 11-5 overall and 5-3 in the conference. The game tied South Carolina's record for most lopsided loss in SEC play. The Gamecocks lost to Alabama by 32 points (91-59) last season.
The victory was the 300th in Pitino's coaching career. It made him only the ninth Division I coach to amass that many victories within 14 seasons.
South Carolina's strategy and the referees made for a boo-filled first half. South Carolina took Tennessee Coach Kevin O'Neill's advice and slowed the tempo. Except for fast-break opportunities, the Gamecocks milked the shot clock, spread the floor and looked patiently for one-on-one drive opportunities.
The referees drew the ire of Cats fans near the end of the half. The refs called fouls on four straight possessions in the final 2:25. UK got a break when BJ McKie, the league's seventh best free-throw shooter (76.3 percent), made only four of a possible eight points.
That and a couple of timely three-pointers in the final 30 seconds elevated Kentucky to a 42-34 lead at intermission.
UK came out hot and appeared headed for yet another routine blowout victory. The Cats made six of their first seven shots. Included in the barrage was freshman Wayne Turner's first three-pointer, which gave UK a 15-4 lead at the 16:38 mark.
An Allen Edwards three-pointer gave Kentucky its largest first-half lead, 22-10. His shot gave UK five three-point baskets in its first six attempts. It also brought South Carolina's decision to play a 2-3 zone into question.
If Coach Eddie Fogler second-guessed himself, his decision to stick with the zone paid off. UK proceeded to miss 15 of its next 20 shots.
During that span, South Carolina rallied to tie it at 28 with 6:48 left.
Point guard Melvin Watson sparked the comeback. A twisted knee made him ineffective (five points) in UK's 89-60 victory at South Carolina three weeks earlier.
Watson matched his two baskets in Columbia with 14:30 left in the first half.
McKie also came up big in the rally. He accounted for five points in a 9-0 run that sliced Kentucky's lead to 24-23. His three-pointer tied it at 28.
South Carolina's ability to hang tough by slowing the pace increasingly aggravated the Rupp crowd as the half continued. The crowd chanted boring- boring-boring during a Gamecocks possession that tied it at 30 on Watson's driving banker.
The crowd booed as the Gamecocks held the ball on the next possession.
The succession of fouls followed.
But three-pointers by Derek Anderson and Ron Mercer -- the latter at the buzzer -- gave the Cats an eight-point cushion at halftime.
The second half began with a scare for Kentucky. South Carolina jetted out of the blocks, closing within 46-43 on McKie's three-pointer. That prompted a 20-second timeout with 18:16 left.
South Carolina closed with 46-45 when momentum shifted 180 degrees. The Cats caught a break when Watson foolishly tried to intercept a pass and fouled Delk near the hash mark. It was Watson's fourth foul and came with 17:24 left.
Watson held his hands to his face as if to say "What was I thinking?"
The next 65 seconds saw a patented Kentucky run that took much of the threat out of South Carolina's slow-down pace.
UK ran off 13 straight points to establish a 59-45 lead with 12:05 left. The press ignited the breakout. After Pope hit a jumper, the Cats forced two ugly turnovers. Each time Larry Davis, the SEC player of the week last week, grew so desperate he simply flung the ball down court. Each time UK intercepted and converted: a McCarty dunk off a Delk lob and an Anderson three-pointer.
Those plays aroused the crowd's blood lust. UK delivered. South Carolina went almost six minutes without a point until Watson drove to a heavily contested layup with 11:50 left.
By the time South Carolina called time at the 9:32 mark, the UK run was up to 24-2.