Friday, March 09, 2001

Kentucky hopes to avoid upset

The Courier-Journal

        NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Both teams will be hoping history isn't repeated today when the University of Kentucky plays South Carolina in the Wildcats' opening game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

        For the Gamecocks, it's a 33-point February home loss to the Cats they'd like to forget. For 15th-ranked Kentucky, it's last year's opening game of this tournament that serves as the re minder that on any given day anyone can be beaten — even the league's regular-season co-champion.

        Kentucky (19-9, 12-4 SEC) had won the last three SEC tournaments and seven of the last nine going into last year's event. But the Cats bombed out in their opening game, committing 27 turnovers in a shocking 86-72 loss to Arkansas.

        “That's something we can't forget about,” said Kentucky forward Tayshaun Prince. “We recognize that every team wants to win it. Arkansas proved it last year. We won an SEC championship with Florida, and we want to win a tournament title as well. We don't want to have a letdown. We want to prove the regular season wasn't a fluke.”

        South Carolina (15-13, 7-10), which beat Mississippi State 69-62 Thursday in its opening game at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, would like to show that at least one-sixteenth of its SEC season was a fluke. Like that 94-61 whipping administered by the Cats in Columbia, S.C., on Feb.3.

        Prince hit five of five 3-pointers and scored 29 points in that game. The Cats shot a sizzling 64.5 percent overall, including 62 percent (13 of 21) on 3-pointers. They outscored the Gamecocks, 56-28 in the second half.

        “Every time I turned my head, they were putting the ball in the basket,” said South Carolina forward David Ross. “It was kind of a snowball effect. You get down 10-12 points and they hit three or four 3s in a row and start dunking the ball a couple times, and before you know it, you start hanging your heads. You don't want to do it, but it's kind of hard not to.”

        The good news for South Carolina is that although the Gamecocks lost 10 SEC games, that was the only time they were blown out. Ken tucky's 69-63 home victory over the Gamecocks in January was a struggle all the way.

        “We can play with them,” Ross said after the Gamecocks put away Mississippi State. “Up in Lexington with three minutes to go, the game was tied, so we know we can play with these guys.”

        Ross called the 33-point loss a “blip on the radar screen” that shouldn't have any bearing today. “We hadn't seen that happen before and we haven't seen it since.”


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