Sunday, January 13, 2002

Kentucky 69, South Carolina 63

AP Sports Writer

South Carolina's Jamel Bradley (l0) looks for a route around Kentucky's Ivan Howell.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        LEXINGTON, Ky. — South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler tried to suppress an unbelieving smirk when asked to comment on Kentucky's early-season habit of giving up big leads down the stretch.

        “I don't know too much about Kentucky's problems. ... I'd like to have their problems,” Fogler said after watching the Wildcats hold off his Gamecocks for a 69-63 victory Wednesday night.

        “We played reasonably well, but you can't play reasonably well and expect to get a win in Rupp Arena.”

        For the third straight game, the Wildcats (8-5, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) built a double-digit lead early in the second half only to watch it evaporate over the final 10 minutes.

        Marquis Estill and Saul Smith each made a pair of free throws in the final minute to hold off the Gamecocks as Kentucky won its fifth straight game following an uncharacteristic 3-5 start.

        After dropping games to St. John's, UCLA, Georgia Tech and Michigan State by a total of nine points early in the season, Kentucky has won its last three games by two (Louisville), four (Georgia) and six (South Carolina) points.

        “We did what we had to do to win,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “We knew they would be ready after a big win over Florida, and they were.

        “We have this MO (modus operandi) of giving up leads. We had a lot of open looks, but the shots just weren't going down.”

        Estill and Keith Bogans each scored 11, and Tayshaun Prince and Jason Parker added 10 each to lead the Wildcats, who shot 53.7 percent. They are now 5-0 this season when shooting better than 50 percent from the field.

        “This team is really starting to mature,” Bogans said. “Things are starting to fall into place. We're winning close games, and things are really coming together for us.”

        Marius Petravicius scored 13 points and Jamel Bradley had 12 to lead South Carolina (9-4, 1-1), which rallied from a 14-point deficit with 16 minutes remaining to tie the game with just over three minutes to play.

        “On the road, your goal is to keep it close and try to win the game at the end,” Fogler said. “The key was that we didn't panic when we got down. We made some key shots and got some easy hoops that got us back in the game.”

        Chuck Eidson and Aaron Lucas each added 10 points for the Gamecocks, who outrebounded Kentucky 34-29 but shot only 37 percent from the field.

        Led by Estill, Kentucky's bench was a factor for the second straight game, outscoring South Carolina's reserves 31-12.

        J.P. Blevins hit all three of his shot attempts, including two 3-pointers, to finish with eight points, while Marvin Stone and Erik Daniels chipped in six and four points, respectively.

        “Our bench was outstanding, and that was the key,” Tubby Smith said. ”(J.P.) is playing with a lot of confidence right now. Defensively, he did a very good job and gave us a big boost.”

        A 7-0 run, capped by Bradley's long 3-pointer, gave South Carolina a 16-10 lead with 12:50 to play in the first half. Estill then scored seven of Kentucky's next nine points as the Wildcats went up 19-18 with 9:30 remaining.

        A 9-2 run to end the half, which included Blevins' first 3-pointer, gave Kentucky a 32-28 halftime lead.

        “When I enter the game, I'm ready to play — I'm energized,” said Blevins, who matched his season-high point total for the second straight game. “I want to get in there and contribute to help this team win.”

        Kentucky opened the second half with a 16-6 run, capped by back-to-back 3-pointers by Bogans and Gerald Fitch, to go up 48-34 with 16:22 remaining.

        Down 55-43 with 11 minutes to play, Petravicius scored seven points during a 12-2 run to pull South Carolina to 57-55. Lucas then hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 59 with 3:54 remaining.

        Tied at 61, Prince hit a jumper and Bogans scored on a drive to the basket to put Kentucky up 65-61 with 1:07 remaining.

        “It was important that South Carolina didn't take the lead, even though they tied it,” Tubby Smith said. “Our guys didn't let the pressure get to them.”

        Following Rolando Howell's dunk, Estill and Saul Smith each drained two free throws in the closing moments to seal the game.

        “I thought we started strong in the first half but slowed down in the second,” said Petravicius, who added seven rebounds. “Lucas had some big plays down the stretch, but we just couldn't pull it out.”


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