Kentucky's one-point loss at home on Saturday to South Carolina was the first SEC defeat in Rupp Arena since February 10, 2007, when the Cats fell to Florida. It was just the second win ever for USC in games played in Lexington. The Gamecocks last won here in 1997.
For the Cats, it was a second-straight bitter defeat. Mississippi knocked off the Wildcats ealier this week. Billy Gillispie called for his team to show more toughness. He also blasted several Wildcats for not carrying out assignments, including Perry Stevenson, who was supposed to call a timeout on UK's last possession, if the play broke down, which Gillispie said did.
Ole Miss was able to render Jodie Meeks, UK's and the SEC's leading scorer, all but ineffective. South Carolina "held" Meeks to 20 points, his ninth-straight 20-point game. But coach Darrin Horn said his team didn't do anything defensively to keep Meeks in check. Horn pointed out that Meeks picked up his second foul midway through the first half, forcing Gillispie to sit his star guard.
The Cats out rebounded the Gamecocks, but were killed on the offensive glass -- South Carolina had 18 offensive rebounds, resulting in 21 second-chance points. Gillispie complimented Carolina for being more mentally tough. The coach lamented that his own team was "soft," and that "unless we find some toughness somewhere, we're going to be in for a long rest of the conference."
Carolina guard Devan Downey was spectacular in the second half, scoring 19 points, including the game-winner with :05 to play. His step-back floater over Jodie Meeks was a play Downey called in the huddle. "I told them to get open and that I would penetrate and pass unless I was dead wide-open," Downey told Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News.
This wouldn't be the first time Horn has allowed his players the freedom to improvise. In Carolina's win over Florida, Horn allowed Mike Holmes and Zam Fredrick to free lance, when Chandler Parsons' missed free throws for the Gators. Holmes instructed Fredrick to break long if Parsons missed. Holmes rebounded, threw to Fredrick at the other end, and the Gamecocks won on a last second layin.
Homecoming for Horn
I've known Darrin Horn since he was 7th-grader, so it wasn't surprising that I found myself rooting for the Gamecocks at times on Saturday. Horn, of course, played at Tates Creek, where, as a senior, he led the Commodores to a the finals of the Sweet 16. Horn's brother, Greg, and I, were interns together at WKYT. That's when we all started referring to Darrin as "the Horn kid."
Well, look at the Horn kid now. After playing at Western, coaching his alma mater to the NCAA Tournament, Darrin is man in charge at South Carolina. And on his first trip into Rupp Arena, where he lost to Fairdale in the finals of boys state tournament, beats the Wildcats in his first attempt.
Horn had his usual support group with him -- mom, Lois; father, Ed; brother, Greg; sister, Missy; and wife Carla, daughter, Caroline and son Walker, all sitting just behind the South Carolina bench. Ed Horn admitted it was stressful, but thought watching Darrin as a player was even tougher.
With the win, Horn gets his "signature" win in his hometown, over a school he grew up rooting for. "It was great. It probably was even more special for my family and friends, to be a part of it and watch it. I'm really happy for my players, but the win for me individually is not that important to me," Horn told our Rob Bromley.
Snub? What snub?
The Internet message boards were crackling on Saturday evening, posters blasting Billy Gillispie for apparently NOT shaking Darrin Horn's hand following his team's loss to South Carolina.
Carolina's flight out of Lexington was delayed, so I asked the Gamecocks' coach about the "alleged" incident. "Tell those fans to get a life and stop worrying about Billy," Horn laughed. "He was looking off at one of his players. He shook my hand. Yes, he shook my hand," Horn said emphatically.
I was following Horn when both teams filed past, during the customary post-game hand shake. You can hear Horn shout "Billy," as if to get the coach's attention. As I pan, you can see and hear Gillispie say, "Good job," to Horn. Although you can't see it on the video, I assume the handshake ensued.
Tates Creek 2, Wildcats 0
Give the former Creekers their props. The school's alums are undefeated in two games this season against the Wildcats. VMI, which came into Rupp Arena and knocked off the Cats in November, featured former Tates Creek star Michael Sparks. Sparks, a freshman, played 20 minutes, scoring five points.
After the game, a giddy Sparks called the win one of the biggest moments in his life.
Surely, for USC coach Darrin Horn, there won't be a more memorable win in his career.
Tuesday night block party
Next up for the Wildcats: Mississippi State on Tuesday. The game will feature two of the best defensive teams in the country.
Jarvis Vanardo leads the country in blocked shots, averaging nearly five per game. Mississippi State and UK are one and two, respectively, in leading the nation in blocked shots. The Bulldogs average 8.1 blocks per game, while the Cats are swatting 7.3 shots per game.
Officially, UK was credited with eight blocks on Saturday. That might be on the low side.
Given both teams are coming off losses, and both are battling near the top of their respective divisions, players will enter the lane area at their own risk. It won't be for the faint of heart.
Those are the highlights... Stay tuned.