Game day: No. 5 Kentucky 86, South Carolina 76
Click below for more of the Herald-Leader’s and Kentucky.com’s coverage of Tuesday night’s game between Kentucky and South Carolina at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C.
Before Kentucky played South Carolina on Tuesday, it launched a campaign for Oscar Tshiebwe to be named National Player of the Year.
Tshiebwe said this campaign did not make him feel pressured to produce.
“I know everything is in God’s hands,” he said after Kentucky defeated South Carolina 86-76. “If God says you’re going to get it, you’re going to get it. I can’t put pressure on myself. That’s how I’m going to see this.…
“If you’re deserving, no one is going to take that from God’s hands.”
Tshiebwe further bolstered his case for Player of the Year by scoring 18 points and grabbing 14 rebounds at South Carolina. That was his sixth straight double-double and his 18th overall.
He leads Division I in rebounding and offensive rebounding.
Tshiebwe said his mother, Kaya Rosalie, called him when she learned of UK’s campaign on her son’s behalf.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Tshiebwe recalled his mother saying. “I’m just on my knees praying for you.”
His mother wanted him to “share the word of God with these people,” Tshiebwe said.
In May, Tshiebwe visited his family in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He said it was the first time he has seen his family in six years.
He said he took solace in their support. His mother offered advice.
“Let’s forget about basketball,” he recalled her saying. “Let’s forget about school. Right now, clear your mind.”
Tshiebwe had transferred from West Virginia to Kentucky.
“And I came back with a different mind,” he said. “In my mind, everything was clear.”
Scoring isn’t everything
The number of Kentucky players averaging double-digit points decreased from five to four.
Sahvir Wheeler scored only four points. That dropped his season average to 9.7.
UK has not had five players averaging 10 or more points since the 2011-12 national championship team.
Not that Wheeler did not impact the game. He had a game-high 11 assists.
“He’s proven that he can really affect the game without him scoring,” Keion Brooks said of Wheeler. “His scoring is a plus. … He does a great job getting us in sets and creating shots for other people.”
Brooks set a back screen that shook South Carolina freshman guard Devin Carter. Carter stayed in the game after blindly running into the screen.
The play replicated how Wheeler twice was shook up by running blindly into screens earlier this season.
“Obviously, I’m not the biggest (screen setter),” Brooks said with a smile. “… If somebody doesn’t call out the screen, no matter who it is, if you get hit, that hurts.
“That wasn’t my intention to hurt him or put him on the ground. They didn’t call the screen.”
Spoil the party
UK would have been the highest-ranked opponent the Gamecocks had beaten since defeating then-No. 7 Duke in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
South Carolina has not beaten a ranked opponent in a game since Jermaine Cousinard’s buzzer-beating three-pointer finished off No. 10 Kentucky on Jan. 15, 2020.
South Carolina was seeking a third straight home win against the Cats.
Vandy won four in a row at home against Kentucky from 2006 through 2009.
Tennessee took seven in a row in Knoxville from 1979 through 1985; four in a row from 2016 through 2019; and 12 out of 13 from 1973 through 1985.
Versus ranked foes
Since 2012-13, the Gamecocks are 17-33 (9-14 at home) against ranked teams under Coach Frank Martin. A victory over No. 5 Kentucky would have been the team’s highest ranked win at home since a 68-62 victory vs. No. 1 Kentucky on Jan. 26, 2010.
Led by heralded senior Devan Downey, South Carolina posted its first win over a No. 1 ranked opponent (AP poll) in school history when it defeated top-ranked Kentucky.
South Carolina had limited opponents to just 40.3 percent shooting this season, the 44th best field-goal percentage defense in the country (and third-best in the SEC).
The Gamecocks averaged 5.2 blocks per game, which ranked 20th nationally and third in the SEC.
Kentucky made a blistering 56.7 percent of its shots (34 of 60) and 40 percent of its three-point shots (six of 15).
South Carolina guard Erik Stevenson missed his first free throw of the season with 3:22 to go in a Jan. 22 game against Georgia.
That snapped a streak of 34 straight makes at the foul line for Stevenson dating back to last season when he played for Washington.
By making both of his free throws against Kentucky, Stevenson improved to 43 of 44 from the foul line this season: 97.7 percent accuracy.
Going into the game, South Carolina was averaging 13.2 offensive rebounds this season. That ranked second in the SEC and 14th nationally.
The Gamecocks grabbed 22 offensive rebounds against the Cats. UK had eight.
Kentucky went into the game ranked second nationally in rebound margin: plus 11.2 on average. South Carolina outrebounded UK 41-40.
Since advancing to the Final Four in 2017, South Carolina’s record is 70-70 (36-45 in the SEC).