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Kentucky Basketball

Cats Fall to South Carolina at the Buzzer, 81-78

January 15, 2020

Kentucky suffered their first loss in SEC play, as Jermaine Couisnard’s desperate three banked in at the buzzer to give the Gamecocks an 81-78 upset win Wednesday night in Columbia. The Cats seemed to be in control all night, until their defense totally abandoned them and South Carolina seemed to score at will on every possession in the last 10 minutes of the second half. South Carolina out-scored Kentucky 56-45 in a track meet of a second half, in which neither team could really stop each other as the Gamecocks were able to drive to the basket at will and either finish at the rim or get weakside offensive rebounds to score. The loss moves UK to 12-4 and 3-1 in the SEC with a very tough test coming up Saturday, at Arkansas.

The Cats were seemingly in control in what lived up to be an ugly game for the first 30 minutes or so, until the fireworks began. UK led 8-0 to start the game, and methodically controlled the first half with tough drives and finishes by Ashton Hagans and some tough baskets by Nick Richards and Tyrese Maxey. Kentucky led 33-25 at the break, but it felt like the Cats should have led by 12-15 points. As it turned out, it would have been nice to have a bit more of a lead going into a wild second half.

Kentucky led by 13 with 11:41 left, on a pair of EJ Montgomery free throws, and by 8, at 58-50 with 9:56 left, after two Quickley free throws. Then, UK’s defense seemed to completely disappear, giving up a 31-20 run by South Carolina the rest of the way. South Carolina made 25-36 from the field in the second half, for 55.6%. But, the Gamecocks allowed the Wildcats to tie it up at 78 because of very poor free-throw shooting after taking the lead at 71-70, with 3:48 remaining. From there, South Carolina only made 3 of 8 attempts at the line. But Immanuel Quickley was almost the hero for Kentucky again tonight, as he converted a three-point play with 53.8 seconds left to pull Kentucky to within 3 at 77-74. Quickley missed a three and Keion Brooks missed two put-back layups with 30 seconds left that would have brought Kentucky to within one. Quickley then made a game-tying jumper from the right baseline to tie it with 7 seconds left. However, the Gamecocks still had time for Couisnard to take the inbounds pass and rush up the court, nearly un-guarded, and hoist a 24-foot three that banked in at the buzzer. It was a heartbreaking loss, but a loss that could have been avoided if the Cats hit their own free throws and play anywhere close to the defense they had played most of the season. The Cats only shot 25-36 from the line, well below their 78% average for the season. Kentucky has not shot free throws as well during conference play, and that is something that must get back in shape as UK goes through the rest of the SEC schedule.

The practically un-guarded three at the buzzer was a microcosm of the 2nd half defense the Cats played. They were likely afraid to guard with any aggressiveness because of the quick whistle being called (along with the fact there were many questionable calls in the game over-all), but they showed no signs of wanting to stop Carolina from driving the lane and either kicking, going up for a shot and finishing and/or many times allowing the Gamecocks to get the weakside board and either extend the possession or score on a put-back. 

The two teams racked up 54 fouls total, with the Cats being called for 26, as both teams shot free throws often the last 10 minutes of the 2nd half. Kentucky turned it over 15 times, with two very costly turnovers by Hagans at the 11:00 minute mark that seemed to help spark the South Carolina run. The Cats seemed to drive often without having an idea of what to do, especially in the first half, wasting multiple possessions in which they could have pulled out to a bigger lead. Rebounding on the defensive end was a huge issue as well, giving up 20 offensive rebounds while only getting 10 themselves. The Cats were only able to force 9 Gamecock turnovers as well, so South Carolina was able to have 16 more possessions just on those two stats alone. Carolina got up 73 shots to UK’s 55 from the field. That is how a poor shooting team wins games only shooting 39.7%, well below their average of 43% overall on the season.

There were very few bright spots over-all tonight, as any small glimmers of positivity are greatly overshadowed by the total meltdown on defense in the last 10 minutes tonight. Kahlil Whitney, Johnny Juzang, and EJ Montgomery showed some signs on offense, and Quickley continued to be clutch, scoring when Kentucky needed it most tonight. South Carolina’s two best players, AJ Lawson and Maik Kotsar only combined for 5 points, on 1-10 shooting, but still South Carolina won the game. Couisnard killed UK all night, going 4-7 from three, scoring 26 points, and ultimately hitting the, albeit somewhat lucky, banked three at the buzzer.

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Cats Fall to South Carolina at the Buzzer, 81-78

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