USC put its best effort forward Tuesday night against Kentucky at the Colonial Life Arena, but it wasn’t enough to overtake the fifth ranked team in the country. The Wildcats pulled away from a 43-43 tie early in the second half to an 86-76 win over the Gamecocks snapping a two-game losing streak in Columbia.
The Gamecocks used a 9-2 run in the first four minutes of the second half to catch the Wildcats by the first media timeout. But UK regrouped and hit the Gamecocks with a 7-0 run to re-establish game control at 50-43. The Gamecocks never caught up again as the Wildcats methodically built a 14-point lead and cruised to their 20th win of the season.
Try as they might defensively, the Gamecocks had no answers for the Wildcats offense in the second half. UK shot 62% and didn’t rely on their three-point prowess. They had only two baskets from deep in the half. Instead, the Wildcats attacked inside and rolled up 28 points in the paint for the half and 48 for the game.
The Wildcats had 12 dunks and 6 layups for the game contributing to 26 fastbreak points. Kentucky’s three bigs of Oscar Tshiebwe, Jacob Toppin and Keion Brooks combined for 43 points and 26 rebounds. Tshiebwe led Kentucky with 18 points and 14 rebounds for his sixth straight double-double.
USC got some heroic performances from Keyshawn Bryant and Wildens Leveque. Bryant recorded his first double-double of the season with 18 points and a career high 14 rebounds. Leveque, who had been struggling in recent weeks, responded with 16 points and 7 rebounds. Jermaine Couisnard also was a major contributor with 17 points.
The Gamecocks have now lost three straight games matching their longest losing streak of the season. They are 13-10 and 4-7 in the SEC and will play at Georgia Saturday afternoon.