LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — An overwhelming favorite, Kentucky didn’t overlook South Carolina and coasted to a 76-48 win over the Gamecocks Tuesday night.
The fifth-ranked Wildcats notched their ninth straight victory, including eight straight Southeastern Conference victories since dropping a 77-75 loss to Alabama in the league opener on Jan. 5 in Tuscaloosa. Kentucky (19-3, 8-1) improved to 13-0 at home this season.
“That’s a hard team to play,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They’re disruptive, collapse, run people at you, they gap screen and they’re really good. We played good today, though. I really liked our toughness and especially from our young guys.”
Kentucky sophomore PJ Washington continued his recent dominance in scoring and paced the Wildcats with 20 points. Washington, the conference co-player of the week, has scored double figures in six straight games, including 20 or more in four of the past five games.
Reid Travis, Tyler Herro, and EJ Montgomery added 11 points apiece as four players reached double figures. Montgomery gave the Wildcats a lift off the bench and finished 13 rebounds. Both career highs in scoring and rebounding gave Montgomery the first double-double of his career. Montgomery splashed a 3-pointer with 16 seconds remaining. Kentucky got 23 points from its reserves and out-rebounded the Gamecocks 50-27.
“EJ was really good,” Calipari said. “He was active, playing hard, blocking shots … he’s starting to come around. This (was) a great game for him to prove it against a really physical team.”
Montgomery’s main focus is “getting rebounds and playing defense” and added he’s just letting “my offense come to me” and said the hard work in practice is starting to pay off.
“All the work I’ve been putting in practice and the extra work (has helped) and I knew my time was coming,” he said.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin said his team didn’t “answer the bell” and match Kentucky’s intensity. Martin said Montgomery’s performance was a difference in the post, creating issues for his squad on the defensive end of the court.
“He got an opportunity today,” Martin said. “He was extremely active around the interior and the rim. He rebounded every ball that came off the rim. That’s a credit to EJ — they called his number today and he responded and played with physicality.”
For the seventh time in the past eight games, the Wildcats limited the opposition to less than 40 percent shooting from the field. South Carolina shot just 36 percent from the field and committed 19 turnovers. Kentucky tallied 26 points off those miscues by the Gamecocks. During the team’s current win streak, the Wildcats have held the opposition to an average of 58 points per game and 37 percent shooting from the floor.
"They missed a lot of shots today they usually make," Calipari said. "The last five games, they shot threes at almost 40 percent. I expected them to make some shots and they didn't."
South Carolina leading scorer Chris Silva scored just four points, including two in the opening half. Calipari praised Travis’ defensive performance against Silva in the post.
“The kid is exhausted,” he said. “We’ve got him on an IV. He and Silva went at each other and (Travis) was able to withstand it. They have a guy like that, we’ve got one too.”
In a 76-68 win over the Wildcats last year, Silva scored 27 points including 12 during a 36-14 run in the final 12 minutes that resulted in the come-from-behind victory for the Gamecocks.
Kentucky built a lead that eclipsed 29 points and avoided a second-half collapse similar to last year’s disaster at Colonial Life Arena.
Gametracker: Kentucky at Mississippi State, 1 p.m. TV/Radio: CBS, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.