Kentucky-South Carolina Preview
By MATT BECKER
(AP) -- It seems after every Kentucky game the opposing coach will gush over star freshman Anthony Davis.
South Carolina's Darrin Horn is among those in awe.
Davis looks to help the top-ranked Wildcats win their 15th in a row and sweep the season series from the Gamecocks on Saturday night in Columbia.
Kentucky (22-1, 8-0 SEC) leads the nation in defensive field-goal percentage at 36.0, and a lot of that can be attributed to Davis' presence in the paint. The 6-foot-10 forward is averaging an NCAA-best 4.7 blocks, and when he's not swatting shots, he's making opponents rethink about driving the lane and forcing them into taking bad shots.
In Tuesday's 69-44 win over Tennessee, the Wildcats limited the Volunteers to 28.1 percent shooting and Davis blocked seven shots. Davis, who averages a team-best 13.5 points and is second in the SEC in rebounding with 10.2 per game, also had a game-high 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
"A guy like that, they come along once in a lifetime," Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said. "He just changes the game for you."
Davis had a similar effect in a 79-64 victory over South Carolina on Jan. 7. The Wildcats limited the Gamecocks, 11th in the SEC with 63.0 points per game, to 39.1 percent shooting and Davis finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks.
"I've never seen a kid do what he can do," Horn said. "He gets a double-double every night because of his athleticism."
While Davis has been the biggest star among the Wildcats' starting group of three freshmen and two sophomores, he isn't the only reason John Calipari's team is expected to make a run for a national title.
Kentucky has six players averaging at least 9.8 points and is averaging an SEC-best 71.9 points in conference games. Against the Vols, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 16 points and eight rebounds, while Terrence Jones added 11 points and six boards.
"We play with a lot of intensity," Davis said. "We never miss a beat, we just keep going and going like Energizer bunnies."
Kentucky's energy proved to be too much for South Carolina in the first meeting. Jones had a game-high 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting, Marquis Teague scored 17 and Doron Lamb added 10 for the Wildcats, who shot 59.2 percent.
Kentucky has won four straight in the series by an average of 19.0 points since losing 68-62 in Columbia on Jan. 26, 2010, when the Wildcats were ranked No. 1.
The Gamecocks have lost 14 of 16 against Top 25 foes since, and they're coming off Thursday's 74-66 defeat to No. 12 Florida.
South Carolina held the Gators to 37.3 percent shooting but couldn't overcome an early 17-point deficit. Bruce Ellington had a team-high 15 points and Malik Cooke and Damontre Harris added 12 apiece for the Gamecocks, who lost for the sixth time in seven games.
"The challenge is when you're playing a team of Florida's caliber and you've dug yourself in a hole," Horn said. "Our defensive effort was phenomenal. Offensively, in the second half, when we spread the floor and started attacking a little more, we had some good things happen."
Cooke is averaging a team-best 12.7 points and Ellington is the only other South Carolina player in double figures at 11.1. Both struggled offensively against the Wildcats last month, as Ellington had eight points on 3-of-13 shooting and Cooke scored 11 while missing 9 of 14 shots.
Updated February 3, 2012