UK Basketball prepares for Gamecocks

Guard Andrew Harrison of the Kentucky Wildcats goes up for a dunk during the second half of the game against the Providence Friars at Rupp Arena on Sunday, November 30, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky defeated Providence 58-38. Photo by Michael Reaves

By Kevin Erpenbeck

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The last time UK and South Carolina played, the Cats were in the middle of a late-season slump, head coach John Calipari got ejected and the team lost 72-67.

That was in 2014; the same season UK became runner-up NCAA Champions after then-freshman guard Aaron Harrison ensured that the team would make a run and create a “great story” post-South Carolina.

Regardless, the memories of that game and the lessons the Cats have learned since still linger in their minds.

“That game was in March,” Calipari recalled. “We didn’t bow our necks until I got tossed. I look back on last year and I’m amazed that we were able to pull it together.”

When it comes to how the Cats were able to bounce back from a difficult loss and sweep through five NCAA Tournament games, Calipari credits it to the “special group” that played last year.

“We stunk. Like, stunk. And then by two weeks later we’re playing out of our minds?” Calipari said. “That means you have a good group that was just not sure of themselves (at the time). And (this year’s) kids are so different.”

The 2015 Cats remain undefeated this season after facing a tough test against Vanderbilt on Tuesday. Despite being hot from beyond the arc for most of the game, the Commodores couldn’t find a way to knock off UK.

Freshman guard Tyler Ulis said Tuesday’s game was a perfect teaching tool, even for an unbeaten team.

“We just learned that we have to fight all the time,” Ulis said. “They came ready to play. We just have to be able to stick with the game plan.”

Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison said that same logic can be applied to Saturday’s game in Columbia, S.C., considering what happened to the team the last time it was there.

“We have to come and play 100 percent or it’s going to be a long game,” he said. “If we go down there and play like we did last year, we’ll lose again.”

What Calipari is expecting from this year’s game, though, is the same, tough mentality from the Gamecocks, but a more self-aware mindset from an experienced UK team.

“The thing that they’ve benefitted most of (from last year) is that you don’t have to play well because we have enough guys,” Calipari said. “There’s no ‘If I don’t play well, we’re going to lose this game.’ No, if five or six of you play well, we will figure out who they are and we will run with them.”