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The ‘Cats fell to South Carolina at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night by a score of 71-68. It was the first home loss for the ‘Cats since a 71-67 loss to Florida on February 27, 2021. If last Saturday’s 26-point blowout loss to Alabama on the road wasn’t rock bottom for the ‘Cats, this was. It seems as if there are some underlying issues with this Kentucky team, and it is clear that on-court chemistry is an issue. Its mid-January and Coach Calipari has yet to establish a consistent rotation. That leads to, at times, a collection of ‘Cats that just don’t “gel” together finding themselves on the court with each other. The disconnect within the team can be seen in warmups, on the bench, and as players walk off the court into the huddle and locker room. Lack of energy, chemistry, and execution all contributed to the first loss at home to South Carolina since January 31, 2009 (78-77 SC).

South Carolina entered the game with a 7-8 record on the season and had started conference play at an 0-2 clip. The Gamecocks fell to Tennessee in Knoxville by 43-points last Saturday. The best offensive player for the Gamecocks coming into Tuesdays matchup was GG Jackson II (15.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG) with three other Gamecocks averaging double figures on the season.

For Kentucky, Jacob Toppin was out for the game with an injury. However, CJ Frederick returned to the court for the first time since December 31 when he was injured at Missouri. Tshiebwe (15.9 PPG, 13.7 RPG), Reeves (11.9 PPG, 43% from three), Wallace (11.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.1 SPG), and Wheeler (9.8 PPG, 6.7 APG) lead the ‘Cats offensive attack on the season. Some keys to the game for the ‘Cats were finding an offensive rhythm, creating fast-break opportunities, three-point shooting, and bench impact.

The starting lineup featured Wheeler, Wallace, Livingston, Collins, and Tshiebwe with Toppin out.

The game scoring started with a deep three from the Gamecocks. After an easy layup down low for South Carolina, the ‘Cats got on the board with a Wallace mid-range jumper that brought the score to 5-2. An 8-0 run by South Carolina led to a barrage of “boos” form the home ‘Cats fans as the Gamecocks took a 13-2 lead into the first media timeout. Wallace ended the ‘Cats drought with a driving layup. After back-to-back threes by South Carolina grew their lead to 15, Wheeler hit an angled driving layup that brought the score to 21-8 with 12:28 to play in the half. Frederick checked into the game for the first time since his injury at Missouri. Mid-range jumpers from Reeves and Tshiebwe, followed by a Reeves putback layup in transition brought the score to 23-14 Gamecocks. A dunk underneath form Tshiebwe just before the shot clock buzzer narrowed the score to 23-16 South Carolina with 7:05 remaining in the half. A putback slam from Ware off a missed Frederick three left the score at 26-18 South Carolina. A coast-to-coast steal and slam in transition from Tshiebwe ignited the home crowd. South Carolina’s Johnson hit his third three of the game to re-extend the Gamecocks lead back to 9 at 33-24 with 2:40 to play in the half. Both teams went 4 for 4 on their field goals to end the half, leaving the score at 42-32 South Carolina. South Carolina shot 57% from the field and 67% from three (6 for 9). The ‘Cats shot 50% from the field and did not make a first half three-pointer. Johnson led all first half scorers with 16 points (4-5 from three). Tshiebwe led the way for the ‘Cats with 12 points and 8 rebounds. Kentucky did not lead at any point in the half.

The second half began with a Frederick jumper. Tshiebwe followed up that jumper with a couple free-throws that brought the score to 42-36. Both teams continued their trend of trading buckets after a quick Gamecocks run. The score was 48-38 Gamecocks before Frederick nailed a transition three that narrowed the score to 48-41. Consecutive threes by the Gamecocks brought the score to 57-45 South Carolina with 12:37 to play. The score at the under 12-minute media timeout was 59-48 South Carolina. A strong driving layup by Livingston brought the score to 59-52 Gamecocks with 10:30 to play. A crafty diving layup as the shot clock was winding down by Wheeler brought the score to 61-56 as the Rupp Arena crowd reached its peak for the night. Johnson’s sixth three of the game fell to bring the score to 66-58 Gamecocks with 5:07 left. Jackson hit a corner three that pushed the South Carolina lead to 11 at 69-58 with 3:54 remaining. A Reeves corner three out of a timeout brought the score to 69-61. A Collins and-one opportunity off a missed Reeves three brought the ‘Cats within 6 at 69-63 with 2:15 to play. A floater by Wheeler followed by a Frederick three in transition with under a minute to play brought the score to 69-68 with 31-seconds remaining. Two Gamecocks free-throws pushed the lead to 71-68. The ‘Cats last possession featured missed threes by both Frederick and Reeves to end the game. The final score saw the ‘Cats fall for the first time this season at home, 71-68 South Carolina.

The Gamecocks shot 48% from the field and 55% from three on 11 made threes. The ‘Cats shot 51% and 30% from three. The ‘Cats were outrebounded by South Carolina 32-28. Johnson led all game scorers with 26 points and also added 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Tshiebwe led the ‘Cats with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Frederick added 14 points, Reeves scored 13 points, and Wheeler mixed in 10 points to round out the ‘Cats double figure scorers. Wheeler distributed 3 assists. Collins posted the highest plus/minus total for the ‘Cats with a +9 in 21 minutes. Frederick was close behind with +8 in 30 minutes. Wallace was injured in the first half and played just 8 minutes on Tuesday.

The ‘Cats hope to get healthy with the likes of Toppin and Wallace before they take on No. 5 Tennessee on Saturday, January 14. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena. The game will be televised on ESPN.

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