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Kentucky Fails to Find Magic At End
Loses To USC 65-61
By
TheProfessor

Game Preview:

UK defeated USC twice during the regular SEC season. These teams will meet on Saturday afternoon in the first SEC Semi-final game. Should UK take comfort from their prior successes against these Gamecocks? Tennessee may have taken similar comfort from their two regular season victories over these same USC Gamecocks, but today, USC sent Tennessee home from yet another SEC tournament before Saturday arrives. There is a lesson in that UT loss for the Wildcats. Come ready to play USC from the get-go, or USC will send the Cats home packing their bags on Saturday afternoon.

On January 21, UK escaped another Rupp Arena loss when Sparks and Rondo made remarkable 3 pointers in the last minute of play to deliver an 80-78 victory from the very jaws of defeat. In the rematch with USC in Columbia on February 18, Kentucky impressively left USC in shambles of a 79-66 defeat on the Gamecocks homecourt.

On the season, USC has been slightly more effective offensively this season than Kentucky [0.915 ppp v. 0.892 ppp]. Kentucky has posted slightly stronger defensive numbers for the season [0.836 v. 0.870 ppp]. UK has averaged 79.4 possessions per game, while holding its opponents to only 78.5 possessions per game due to a +1 average offensive rebounding margin per game. USC averages 74.0 possessions per game this season, and allows their opponents 73.0 possessions per game. These teams should play this game in the mid 70s pace.

USC currently has a Net Game Efficiency for the year of 0.045 ppp while UK 's current NGE stands at 0.056 ppp. Kentucky has played a stronger schedule than USC this season [0.5843 v 0. 5788]. 

The Pros in Vegas say Kentucky will defeat USC Saturday to advance to the SEC Championship game on Sunday by 2 ½ points, 68-65. This season, UK is 13-14 against the spread. The Net Game Efficiency analysis, adjusted for schedule strength and venue predicts that Kentucky will defeat the Gamecocks by 2 points, 68-66. The pre-game Magic Number is 68 points.

The First Half:

Both teams open this game with very poor shooting, and slog their way to a 6-4 Kentucky lead at the end of the first mini-game of the contest. The pace is equivalent to about 75 possessions for the game which is about average for USC and a little slower than UK might prefer. Tubby Smith came out of the first break in play with a 5 for 5 substitution, and during the ensuing mini-game, this second five extended the early 2 point lead to 4 points, 14-10 at the under 12 TV timeout. The game pace is settling in at about 70 possessions for the game. Tubby returned to his starting lineup out of the second timeout, and at the under 8 TV timeout, USC had drawn even at 17 as UK 's shooting eye went south during the game segment. The game is being played in the mid to upper 70s pace.

In the fourth segment of the first half, USC moved ahead and maintained a lead of 1 to 3 points, at 3 points at the under 4 timeout, 25-22. The teams play the last segment even, and USC takes the 3 point lead into the locker room, 30-27.

UK scored its 27 points on 34 possessions [0.794 ppp] and USC scored its 30 points on 30 possessions, 1.000 points per possession for the half.

Of UK's 34 first half possessions, 6 came by virtue of its offensive rebounding that produced 3 second chance points. USC earned 3 bonus possessions created by its offensive rebounding that produced 4-second chance points. UK had a reasonable offensive efficiency on its first chance possessions, of 0.857 ppp on its 28 first chance possessions and a weak 0.500 ppp for its 6-second chance possessions. USC had a 0.963 ppp on its 27 first chance possessions and USC took full advantage of those second chances by scoring 4 points, 1.333 ppp.

USC made only 3 of its 4 free throw attempts [75.0%] while UK converted 2 of its 2 attempts from the line [100.0%]. Kentucky out rebounded USC in the first half, 16-10, and Kentucky won the battle of the offensive rebounds 6-3 during the first half. USC shot 56.3% [9-16] from inside the arc, and a reasonable 3-8 from beyond the arc [37.5%]. Kentucky also shot poorly 5-15 [33.3%] inside the arc and strong 5-10 [50.0%] from outside the arc. The game pace is equivalent to 68 possessions for UK and 60 possessions for USC.

MAGIC NUMBER

The pre-game analysis indicated a magic number of 68 points. However, based on the slow pace and UK 's low effectiveness in the first half today, the magic number is modified to 59 points. The first team to score its 59 th point will win this game. UK needs to score 32 more points in the second half to reach this level before USC can score 29 points in this race to 59 points. USC scored its 59 th point of the game on a three pointer with 5:40 minutes to play to take the lead to 59-53. USC played out th final 5 1/2 minutes to secure the victory, 65-61.

The Second Half:

Kentucky starts the second half determined to get the ball inside to Morris and quicken the pace. They do both successfully in the first 2 minutes, outscoring USC 10-5 and easing into a 2 point lead, 37-35, prompting Coach Odom to take an early timeout to regroup his team. USC briefly ties the score again at 37, but UK then scores 5 straight to take a 42-39 lead to the bench at the end of a protracted first segment with about 14 minutes to play in the game. At the under 12 timeout, UK continues to cling to a 2 point lead, 47-45 with possession coming out of the break. In the third segment of the second half, USC reasserts its place in this game, and draws back into a tie, at 50 at the under 8 TV timeout. Each team needs 9 more points before the other scores 9 to win the race to 59 points. In the next segment, USC made 3 consecutive 3 pointers, which UK could only match with 1 three pointer and one two pointer to take a 59-55 lead into the under 4 timeout. USC extended the lead back to 6 points, 61-55, and UK cut the lead back to 3 points, 61-58 with 1 minute to play. The teams play out the final minute, and USC advances to the SEC Championship game with a 65-61 victory. UK returns to Lexington to await tomorrow evening's NCAA seeding announcements.

The Outcome:

Kentucky won the battle of the boards for the game, 38-26 and Kentucky won the battle of the offensive boards 15-9. USC grabbed a weak 28.1% of its misses as offensive rebounds while UK grabbed a very strong 46.9% of its misses. UK scored 61 points on its 72 possessions [0.847 ppp] while USC scored its 65 points using 65 possessions [1.000 ppp]. Kentucky committed 13 turnovers to USC's 7 for the game.

Kentucky had 57 first chance possessions in which they scored 45 points, 0.790 ppp while they scored 16 points on their 15-second chance possessions, 1.067 ppp. USC had 56 first chance possessions on which they scored 53 points, 0.946 ppp while they scored 12 second chance points on their 9 second chance possessions, 1.333 ppp.

Tonight UK shot the ball below their season average from the field for the game. From the field, UK shot 38.7% [12-31] inside the arc, and a strong 10-24 from beyond the arc [41.7%] for a combined shooting percentage of 40.0%. The Free throw shooting was above average for the Cats today, 7-9 [77.8%]. USC shot the ball above their season average from the field today. From inside the arc, the Gamecocks hit 51.7% [15-29] and from long range, USC hit a good 41.7% [10-24] for an overall 47.2% shooting percentage for the game. USC's free throw shooting was poor, 5-10 [50.0%]. Kentucky committed one turnover for every 5.5 possessions while forcing a turnover in every 9.3 possessions. Last year, in comparison, these turnover rates were 6.2 and 4.6 respectively for the season.

I predicted a Kentucky win over USC today, 68-66. The predicted v. actual offensive efficiencies were 0.886 and 0.847 ppp respectively for a D+ effort on offense. The predicted v. actual defensive efficiencies were 0.874 and 1.000 ppp respectively for an D+ on defense.

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Copyright 2006 Richard Cheeks
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