COLUMN: Liggins the ‘main part’ of Cats first SEC road win

COLUMBIA, S.C.—As vital as Devan Downey’s offense was in South Carolina’s 68-62 upset over the newly-anointed No. 1 Cats last year, DeAndre Liggins’ shut-down defense was just as important in keying the Cats’ 67-58 victory in UK’s first game in Colonial Life Arena since last year’s upset.

The role of defensive stopper isn’t something new to Liggins (nor is it usually particularly popular among players) but his value in such a role can’t be understated on a youthful team that has had a tendency to take plays off during stretches of time.

“(DeAndre) did a great job and he always does a great job of locking down the other’s team’s best player; we can always depend on him to lock somebody down, we feed off that and I think that was the main part of the win,” said junior guard Darius Miller, who met with Liggins and fellow veteran Josh Harrellson this week to talk about elevating their game as UK stared at the prospect of losing their first three Southeastern Conference road games.

Downey has since graduated from South Carolina, and this year he was replaced with Bruce Ellington, a diminutive freshman, who led the Gamecocks in scoring (14.3 points per game) and assists (3.6 assists per game) prior to Saturday’s contest.

As the Gamecock’s top player, that meant Ellington was Liggins’ defensive assignment for much of the game. And his stat line read like you would expect an unheralded true freshman’s stat line to read after facing a defensive dynamo: eight points, four assists and four personal fouls in 24 foul-trouble plagued minutes.

Ellington was simply one more victim of Liggins’ defense, which is born from qualities that an opponent can’t prepare for with a scouting report.

“(DeAndre’s defense is) just heart, intensity and length,” freshman forward Terrence Jones said. “DeAndre is a hard-nosed defender that enjoys playing defense and locking down, and you have to have someone like that on your team to win championships.”

Impressive as Liggins’ standout performance was, his inspired defensive play seemed to have finally rubbed off on his teammates in what was an all-around good defensive game for the Cats, who limited South Carolina to 33.3 percent shooting. The defensive element was something the Cats lacked in their first two SEC road games.

During one stretch in the first half, the Gamecocks were held to only two field goals from the 15:17 mark of the first half until a pair of back-to-back dunks by Sam Muldrow and Damontre Harris with roughly 1:30 to play before halftime.

“(It wasn’t only Liggins stopping Ellignton), I mean, Muldrow, we did a fairly good job on him, we did a good job on pick-and-rolls,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “You know, we were good defensively today and that leads to some of our offense.”

Praise of any kind from Calipari has been a rarity after two poor road performances, but the Cats seem to be back on track.

He said that he had a good feeling about stopping South Carolina after enjoying a good lunch at Waffle House.

A good gameday may or may not start with Calipari enjoying anonymity at a South Carolina Waffle House. However, a good gameday for the Cats most always occurs when Liggins plays stellar defense and his team follows suit.

In Waffle House terms, Liggins’ defensive assignments can be described as the waffle. Liggins is the syrup that smothers them.