Cats show little fight in SEC East battle

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina was ready to play.

Kentucky wasn't.

That's all you need to know.

Billy Gillispie disagreed with that. Patrick Patterson did, too. So did Perry Stevenson. Never mind the final score, that the Gamecocks rolled 77-59, that Kentucky was never really in the game, that on this night one team looked like a hammer, the other a nail.

"I thought we were prepared," said Patterson.

You could have sure fooled me.

South Carolina treated this important SEC basketball game for exactly what it was, an all-out war between two teams fighting for first place in the Eastern Division, not to mention NCAA Tournament credentials, before a jacked-up crowd of 16,035 in the Colonial Center.

Thus the Gamecocks came to rise to the occasion.

The Wildcats came to wilt.

"(South Carolina) played great tonight, and they made us play real poorly," Gillispie said afterward. "But we haven't been competitive enough when a team says, 'Hey, you're not taking this (game), unless you play your absolute best.' We haven't done very well in those situations. That's not too good on the competitive front in my opinion."

Not too good, indeed. The geeked-up Gamecocks outscored the Cats 26-13 over the final 10 minutes of the first half. They led 46-28 at the half. They blocked a school-record 16 shots. They made 10 steals, forced Kentucky into 20 turnovers.

Better than that, the Gamecocks just flat-out physically overwhelmed their overmatched visitors. Devan Downey picked assorted Cats clean. USC's front-line crashed the glass with a vengeance. From the opening tip, Darrin Horn's team took the fight to Kentucky and the Cats never really fought back.

"It was very frustrating," said Patterson, who was 10-for-24 from the field, and seven of those 14 misses came from having his shot blocked.

How frustrating? At one point in the second half, after finally making a basket, Patterson slammed the ball into the floor. Official Mike Kitts put his whistle in his mouth ready to call a technical foul, only to have Downey, the Carolina point guard and team leader, quickly ask him to hold off. Kitts did.

"To have absolutely zero help," said Gillispie of Patterson, "it was one of the most courageous efforts I've ever seen."

No help? After his terrific performance against Tennessee on Saturday, Darius Miller didn't make a shot Wednesday. Michael Porter committed five turnovers. So poorly did Perry Stevenson play in the first half, by his own admission, he did not see the floor in the second.

"He's not playing hard enough," Gillispie said of Stevenson. The coach said the exact same thing about Josh Harrellson after UK's loss at Vanderbilt last week.

"That's the first two times in my career I've ever said that, that I can recall," said Gillispie. "And that's shameful, in my opinion."

Yet, Gillispie also said, "It's not about effort. It's about competitive nature."

Either way, it was a long way from about a year ago at this time when Gillispie was standing outside his team's locker room at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, choked with emotion when talking about how hard his team had played without an injured Patterson in a three-point loss at Tennessee.

Given that, how disheartening was this?

"I'm not disheartened," Gillispie shot back. "We lost tonight. We're going to be better on Saturday. The world is not going to end tonight.

"No matter how bad I feel — as though the world may end for Billy Gillispie, for me, because that's all I have and all I really care about — the reality is we have to get on the practice court tomorrow and we have to play a team (Louisiana State) that's got 12 wins in conference already and we have to play much better."

Much, much better.