Gamecocks complete season-sweep of Wildcats

USC is in sole possession of first place in SEC East

The (Columbia) StateFebruary 26, 2009 

South Carolina coach Darrin Horn, center, take part in the playing of the South Carolina alma mater along with Zam Fredrick, left, and former Chester star Devan Downey, right, following the Gamecocks' victory over Kentucky in Columbia.

BRETT FLASHNICK • THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBIA -- Former Chester standout Devan Downey thought something incredible like this could happen. When it actually did, though, it was hard to contain the joy.

So after yet another 3-pointer, after yet another pair of blocks by his teammates, the South Carolina guard ran the length of the court. He smiled, waved his arms at the crowd, and soaked it all in.

Sole possession of first place in the SEC East. A probable NCAA tournament berth. And all thanks to an unexpectedly easy 77-59 win over Kentucky.

"You're up 20 against Kentucky, who was legendary, supposedly everybody in the SEC is playing catch-up to that program," Downey said. "So it's always fun to get a game like this, in this fashion."

In by far its biggest game of the season, USC had its best performance of the season. USC and Kentucky entered this game tied for first place in the SEC East.

Now it belongs to the Gamecocks alone.

USC (20-6 overall, 9-4 SEC) is in control of its fate in the division with three games to go. That was all it wanted to achieve in this highly-anticipated matchup, but the way it happened was stunning.

USC led by 18 at the half, and it was never closer. In fact, the lead was more than 20 the vast majority of the second half, and the lead was 27 at one point.

It was USC's largest margin of victory over Kentucky, and the second sweep of the Wildcats, the other being in 1997.

Downey out-shone Kentucky's Jodie Meeks, the probable SEC player of the year who was held to 18 points. (Meeks sat for large portions of the second half, after the game was basically decided.) But Downey's 21 point, seven-steal performance was overshadowed by something else unexpected:

The Gamecock big men dominating the game, blocking Kentucky shots left and right.

USC set a single-game record for blocked shots, and was two away from the most ever by an SEC team. Seven of them were by sophomore center Sam Muldrow, who was challenged by coach Darrin Horn before the game to play better.

"He got dunked on two or three times at Kentucky," Horn said. "I told him I thought he was better than that, in so many words, not for print. I thought he was capable of more, he needed to step up and show that they couldn't do that to him."

The game started with USC trading 3-pointers for layups, which it would have been content with. Then the blocks took away Kentucky's layups, and it became a runaway.

The result left Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie repeating several times that "the world isn't ending."

"I hope it doesn't," Gillispie added. "We got whipped. Give Carolina credit for how well they played."

The Gamecocks completely out-hustled their opponents, getting to loose balls and offensive rebounds. It led by as many as 28, midway through the second half.

"I don't think I've ever seen a player respond the way he did," Horn said. "He showed over a period of a whole game some of the flashes that we've seen and what we as a staff thought he was capable of. I thought our bigs were the difference in the game."

The second-half sequence that gave USC its biggest lead symbolized the game: On the defensive end Muldrow, then Holmes each blocked Kentucky shots. Then Downey capitalized with a spot-up 3-pointer.

"I loved it. It seemed like every time (Kentucky) threw it down low we were starting a fast break with it," Downey said. "If we play like that from here on out we can be a very special team."

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