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Kentucky Basketball's Season Turned to Rubble in Stunning 71-68 Defeat to South Carolina

"It's a long season, it's a marathon," John Calipari said after the unbelievable loss. If it is indeed a marathon, his team is getting lapped.
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky showed energy on the bench. The huddles looked amped during timeouts as John Calipari threw high-fives, encouraging his group to keep the fight going. 

Bang. South Carolina 3-pointer right out of the break. 

CJ Fredrick splashes home a big trey to cut the SC deficit, hyping up the not-so-full Rupp Arena crowd. Here comes the momentum swing! 

Bang. Meechie Johnson rains down another trifecta, this one left all the way from back home in Columbia. 

Chris Livingston gets a tough finish at the rim to trim the lead to seven, moments after "Go Big Blue!" chants ring through the building. Surely the time for the run is now! 

Bang. Johnson. Again. 

GG Jackson would then lace the dagger 3-ball, putting SC up 69-58 with less than 4:00 to play. Or so it seemed.

The fight that has been yearned for from the Wildcats all season finally reared its head, as a 10-0 run — capped off by a Fredrick 3-pointer — cut the deficit all the way down to 69-68. 

Following two free throws, an SC miss with less than 30 seconds to go would lead to Sahvir Wheeler committing just his second turnover of the game via an errant pass. South Carolina (8-8, 1-2 SEC) would call a timeout, but turn the ball over almost immediately after inbounding, giving the ball right back to UK, which was now down 71-68. 

Kentucky (10-6, 1-3) would take a final swing, but a deep Antonio Reeves 3-point attempt bricked. The final buzzer would sound, effectively ending Kentucky basketball's 2022-23 season. 

Kentucky had life, but the sub-.500 Gamecocks sucked it right out en route to just their third-ever win in Lexington, ending Kentucky's home winning-streak of 28 games in a 71-68 stunner. The win was just South Carolina's third ever in Lexington and its first since 2009. 

"We lost at home, and we were down 10 at half," Calipari said after the stunning defeat. "I expect fans to be mad ... i'm going to keep working, keep fighting, the kids are going to keep fighting. Are we all disappointed? Yeah. You should be in (the locker room), we're all disappointed."

Oscar Tshiebwe roared back with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Fredrick returned from a finger dislocation that cost him three games, scoring 14

Johnson led all scorers 26 points, while Jackson provided 16. The Gamecocks connected on 11 3-pointers on Tuesday night. 

"It was just one of those nights," Johnson said postgame. "Hopefully I can have a lot more nights like this." 

In a flash it was 13-2 Gamecocks. Then 21-6. Kentucky would haul it back to a four-point game after a small scoring drought from the visitors, but in the span of a few possessions the lead blossomed right back to 38-28. 

Kentucky never led in the first half, allowing the Gamecocks — who ranked 252nd nationally in KenPom's offensive efficiency metric — to shoot 56.7 percent from the floor, tallying 42 points — the same total that Tennessee allowed in 40 minutes against the same SC squad last Saturday. 

"We lost the game in the first half," Calipari said. 

To make matters worse, star freshman guard Cason Wallace would exit after playing just eight minutes in the first half, heading to the locker room and not returning with a lower-back injury, later confirmed as back spasms by Calipari. Kentucky entered the game already without starting forward Jacob Toppin, who sat out with a right shoulder ailment.

Johnson dropped bomb after bomb, canning 3-pointers from outside the Lexington area code that led to 16 first-half points. He would make four of his first five attempts from deep, each one more crowd-silencing than the next. 

Tshiebwe returned to form after a stunning, humanizing performance in UK's loss to Alabama, totaling 12 points and 8 rebounds in the opening half. Antonio Reeves would add 8 of his own early, all of which came inside the 3-point line. Despite the solid shooting half, the Wildcats trailed 42-32 at the break. 

The above-average offense would remain for the Cats, but so would the below-average defense. As Tshiebwe, Fredrick and Wheeler led the charge in the second half, Jackson and Johnson would stay hot for the Gamecocks. 

After trading buckets for a majority of the half, a scoring drought from SC finally allowed UK to crawl a little closer, as Wheeler connected on a tough layup to make it 61-56, forcing SC coach Lamont Paris to burn a timeout. 

Fredrick would connect on a jumper to pull UK within 3, but Johnson once again had an answer, flushing home a layup followed by his sixth 3-pointer of the evening to grow the SC lead to 66-58. 

As the Cats drew nearer, the Gamecocks found an answer. Every. Single. Time.

"This sucks," Fredrick said. "There's no other way to say it, this stings. You never want to lose on your home court, so this one's gonna sting for a little bit."

Postgame, Paris delivered a powerful statement, one that was about fun — something that has eluded the Wildcats for now 16 games. 

"Sometimes in this whole process buried way beneath all the hard work and sweat, yelling and all that stuff, we talked to our guys all the time that there's fun in disguise buried somewhere in there. And it showed its head today," he said.

The unbelievable defeat will sear a burning image into the minds of Big Blue Nation, as the Wildcats are nowhere near the team that was promised entering the 2022-23 regular season. In the eyes of many, the season has already reached a brutal end. 

"This is a long season, it's a marathon," Calipari said, trying to squeeze out a drop of hope from the mop that the Gamecocks used to wipe his team up with. 

The climb off of the NCAA Tournament bubble — if it hasn't popped already — isn't getting any easier, as now a trip to Knoxville to take on the red-hot No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers awaits. Tipoff inside Thompson-Boling Arena is set for Noon EST and will air on ESPN. 

Want the latest on national football and basketball recruiting, including Cats targets? Head over to SI All-American for the latest news, blogs, and updates about the nation's best prospects.

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