LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Tyrese Maxey is looking forward to his first visit to South Carolina.
“It should be fun,” Maxey said Tuesday. “The veterans said that it’s going to be a hard place to play , said they’re going to be very competitive, very physical, and I just can’t wait for the moment.”
The 10th-ranked Wildcats (12-3, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) will play three of their next four games on the road, starting with Wednesday night’s encounter against the Gamecocks at Colonial Life Arena. South Carolina (8-7, 0-2) has lost three in a row since a 70-59 win over defending NCAA champion Virginia on Dec. 22.
Kentucky associate coach Kenny Payne said the environment at South Carolina is because of the culture Gamecocks coach Frank Martin has instilled.
“Frank Martin is a tough coach, a tough Miami coach,” he said. “His culture is physicality, toughness, rebounding, fighting, you’re not just going to walk into his arena and play basketball and it’s free-flowing. He’s going to make the game hard. You’re going to get hit at times and you’ve gotta be ready for a fight. If you’re not, the aggressor wins. So, the records go out the window. It’s not about how many games they’ve lost or won. It’s about, do you have a mindset going in there and not being hit and being on your heels? You may have to hit first and not let the physicality take you out of what you’re doing.”
In Kentucky’s last road game at Georgia, the Wildcats trailed 37-31 at halftime before using a big second half to defeat the Bulldogs 78-69 last week in Athens. Maxey said the comeback in the conference opener was “a testament to our coach.”
“He was very calm, cool and collected when we walked into the locker room (at halftime),” Maxed said of John Calipari. “He just told us to go out there and compete. He didn’t feel like we were competing as hard as we could and we felt the same way. We just rallied as a team. Our vets stood up, talked, I talked a little bit – I’m not a vet, I’m a youngin’ – and then we just went out and executed.”
Maxey, named the SEC Freshman of the Week after averaging 15 points per game in the team’s two victories last week, has scored double figures in five of the past six games, including a career-high 27 in a 78-70 win over No. 11 Louisville on Dec. 28 at Rupp Arena.
“I did struggle for a little bit, but I never wavered from the work. I always put in the work – got up early in the morning, stayed in late – and knew that it would come back to me,” Maxey said. “I’m just glad my teammates stuck with me.”
Kentucky freshman Johnny Juzang has missed the last three games and hasn’t logged any significant minutes since he played 22 minutes and scored four points in a win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Dec. 7 at Rupp Arena. He tallied two points in a loss to Ohio State last month.
“Johnny is getting better,” Payne said. “I think he started to practice a couple of days ago. He’s been doing well. Got to work him back into the rotation and see where he helps us. It starts with defense. I know everybody wants to talk about his shooting and he’s known as a shooter, but we need guys that can defend and get us stops.”
Calipari was ejected after getting slapped with two technicals in the first three minutes of the game in the Wildcats’ 89-62 win over the Gamecocks at Colonial Life Arena four years ago.
“He talked about it yesterday, how he got tossed there,” Maxey said. “The vets say it’s going to be hard, but every road game is hard. You gotta go out there and fight as one unit and be together.”
Gametracker: Kentucky at South Carolina, Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.