Wake up call: Cats lose first game as No. 1 to Gamecocks [ SLIDESHOW ]


UK loses for the first time this season,68-62, to the Gamecocks at Colonial Life Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010. Photo by Britney McIntosh

COLUMBIA, S.C. – They survived the defending national champions, they took down Connecticut in the “World’s Most Famous Arena” and they overcame a raucous Gator environment. Devan Downey was too much to handle.

The 5-foot-9 South Carolina senior guard scored a game-high 30 points and had an answer for every UK basket. When the final horn sounded the “Garnet Army” stormed the court and the Cats had fallen 68-62 just one day after being named the No. 1 team in the country.

“Hats off to South Carolina, they out-worked us,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “Obviously Devan was hard for us. We’ve had this happen to us in other games but we’ve been good enough in the end to win it anyway.”

Despite a strong performance by freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins and a second half that saw UK freshmen score all 33 of the Cats’ points, UK couldn’t contain Downey.

The No. 1 Cats (19-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) went to Cousins from the beginning of the game to the end. Going up against a smaller South Carolina team, Cousins was the focus and wanted the ball constantly. He finished with 27 points and a dozen rebounds.

“No. 1 is not a championship,” Cousins said. “We’re playing for a championship.”

The Gamecocks, led by Downey, the SEC’s leading scorer, stayed with the Cats throughout the first half, never letting UK stretch its lead to more than seven. The Cats led for most of the first half after taking an early lead on a 3-pointer from freshman guard John Wall.

Downey wouldn’t let the Gamecocks fade away, though. He scored half of South Carolina’s 26 points in the first half and drew foul after foul on UK’s guards.

But he wasn’t done there. Downey stretched the lead to four on a backdoor cut and layup over the outstretched hands of freshman forward Daniel Orton with 15:36 to play.

After a Sam Muldrow jump shot over Cousins made the score 39-33, the Cats went on an 14-3 run where they scored on five consecutive possessions, highlighted by a Wall 3-pointer at the 11:45 mark that caused a timeout by South Carolina coach Darrin Horn. Chants of “Go Big Blue” ignited inside a rabid Colonial Life Arena.

“My feeling all year has been if it’s close we’ve got Number 2 (Devan Downey) and we’ve got a shot,” Horn said.

The two teams exchanged baskets through the final closing minutes. Downey was fouled and hit a fade-away jump shot with one second remaining on the shot clock to give South Carolina a 54-51 lead. But as the entire game went, Cousins had an answer with a fade-away jump shot while being fouled that went down to bring the Cats within two.

In the end it was just too much Downey for the Cats. The speedy senior had an answer for every UK basket and was the emotional leader for a crowd and team that often beat a taller UK squad on the glass throughout the game.

“Their offensive rebounding was it,” Calipari said. “… If we offensive rebound or keep them from offensive rebounding we still would have won the game.”