Date story published: Sunday, January 27, 2008
Before the game, Kentucky gave retiring South Carolina coach Dave Odom a parting gift: a commemorative Rupp Arena chair.
After the game, Odom returned the favor by placing Kentucky center Patrick Patterson in a seat of honor.
"I've been watching Kentucky basketball a long time," he said after UK beat South Carolina 78-70 on Saturday. "They've had terrific post players here. I can tell you, in my opinion, none were better than Patrick Patterson as a freshman.
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"As a freshman," Odom repeated. "All were terrific. But none were better than that kid."
Patterson scored 22 points, grabbed nine rebounds and led a Kentucky effort that dominated South Carolina around the basket.
UK, which won a second straight game for the first time since Nov. 27, aimed to have its way around the basket against an opponent whose starting center had not shot a free throw all season.
Patterson and company made that happen. Grabbing as many offensive rebounds as South Carolina had defensive rebounds, UK won the battle of the boards 37-28. All that brawn and skill inside against a perimeter-oriented opponent translated into a 23-3 advantage in free throws attempted.
"Make of it what you want," Odom said of the free-throw disparity. "But that's the game right there."
Brawn alone did not win for Kentucky (9-9, 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference). The Cats needed brains, too. For the second straight game, UK needed to rally from a second-half deficit, this time trailing 48-41 with barely 14 minutes remaining. Led by Ramel Bradley, who scored a team-high 26 points and grabbed a season-high 10 rebounds, Kentucky overcame South Carolina.
"I'm very excited about the way we hung in there, and we made a lot of plays down the stretch," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said.
Down the stretch has been death valley for South Carolina, which lost for the sixth time after leading by five or more points in the second half. That might be due to the lack of a post game and the reliance on perimeter shooting. The Gamecocks made 12 three-pointers, the most by a UK opponent since South Carolina made 12 of 30 here last season.
But USC made no three-pointers in the final 8:31.
"We didn't hit shots down the stretch," Odom said. "But I tell you we had open shots. We had the shots we wanted. You live with those. In this case, you die with them."
Thanks to its inside play, Kentucky did not trail until early in the second half. Free throws reflected the difference as the Cats made eight of 12. But Bradley's streak of consecutive made foul shots was snapped at 25. South Carolina did not attempt a free throw until the 7:29 mark of the second half and never shot a one-and-one.
"Coach was telling us they have two of the best guards," Patterson said of South Carolina. "They're going to knock down shots. We have the better big men. Just pound the ball inside."
One of those guards, Devan Downey, lived up to the hype by scoring 24 points and handing out seven assists. (He might have had plenty more assists if the Gamecocks had made better than 43.1 percent of their shots.)
The other guard, Zam Fredrick, shook off a two-point first half by swishing three three-pointers inside the first four minutes of the second half. Those bombs gave South Carolina the first of its seven-point leads, 46-39, and prompted a UK timeout. The Cats switched Bradley onto Fredrick, who scored two points the rest of the way.
"Coach says a guy can't score if he doesn't have the ball," Bradley said. "I tried my best to make sure he couldn't catch the ball because he was feeling it."
By contrast, Bradley and his perimeter playmates got the ball to Patterson, who equaled a season high of 14 shots.
"They understand how good Pat is ..." Gillispie said. "He really makes a lot of things happen, either scoring or throw it out from one side to the other."
Patterson highlighted the stretch drive with a left-handed putback dunk of a Bradley miss. That tied it at 53 while exciting the crowd and Patterson.
"That surprised me," Patterson said. "The last time I had a lefty dunk like that was in AAU my junior year (of high school)."
Odom suggested that Kentucky fans can look forward to more of the same, only better, from Patterson in the future.
After listing Patterson's attributes (good feet, good hands, size, strength, adequate face-the-basket shooting, endurance and smarts), the South Carolina coach said, "He's the whole package. And he'll only get better."