COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari wasn’t around to say much about his team’s fight for first place in the Southeastern Conference. Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and the rest of the 22nd-ranked Wildcats spoke volumes in a blowout win at South Carolina.
Ulis had career highs of 27 points and 12 assists, Murray scored 26 points and Kentucky (19-6, 9-3) ran past the Gamecocks 89-62 on Saturday — much of it after Calipari was ejected less than 3 minutes into the game.
“I thought it set a fire within our guys,” said Kenny Payne, Kentucky’s associate head coach. “I thought they played with, ‘You try and take one of our guys out? We’re coming out and going to play with more energy, more effort. We’re going to fight more.’”
The Wildcats came in tied with the Gamecocks and LSU for first place in the league. They left tied with the Tigers, who defeated Texas A&M 76-71.
“Kentucky has been the dominant team in the league for so long and proved a point,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “They put a couple of black eyes on us.”
And Calipari had to watch on TV after he was thrown out with the two technical fouls. Not that it slowed down the Wildcats, who built a 17-point lead in the opening half and gradually stretched things out the rest of the way.
Payne said Calipari, who did not speak to the media afterward, apologized to the team at halftime for getting tossed. Ulis said Calipari’s early actions showed how hard he was fighting for the Wildcats
“You’ve got to fight for him,” Ulis said. “We just tried to go out there and win the game for him.”
Ulis bettered his previous high of 26 points in a loss to Kansas last month and 11 assists accomplished against Florida last Saturday.
He directed the Wildcats attack to hang South Carolina with its biggest home loss since 2012, when Anthony Davis led Kentucky to an 86-52 victory.
Michael Carrera finished with 25 points for South Carolina (21-4, 8-4), which had been 13-0 at home this season.
Calipari was sent packing by official Doug Sirmons, who called the first technical when Calipari argued over the lack of a call on a rebound. When Calipari approached Sirmons after his first technical, he was quickly teed up again and his anger increased.
Three Wildcats had to get between the shouting Calipari and Sirmons before the coach was led off the court and into the locker room.
It was the second time in three seasons Calipari did not make it to the end of a game at Colonial Life Arena, thrown out late in South Carolina’s 72-67 victory here in 2014.
How angry was Calipari this time? “Very,” Payne said.
How much effort went into restraining Calipari? “A lot of effort,” Payne answered quickly.
Martin, who speaks often to his Kentucky counterpart, thought Calipari was on edge in the pregame because of how much was at stake. Martin felt the intensity flowed through the Wildcats during the game.
“We got thrown around like little rag dolls,” he said.
Sirmons wound up calling two more technicals in the second half, one against South Carolina’s Jamall Gregory and another against Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe in separate incidents.
Kentucky kept it up in the second half, opening up a 34-point lead late in the game. Marcus Lee had 11 points to go along with 13 rebounds while Briscoe 10. Ulis and Murray each had four of Kentucky’s 11 3-pointers.
Carrera had 10 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season.
Kentucky: The Wildcats held Georgia to an 18-minute scoring drought over the two halves of their 82-48 win earlier this week. Kentucky held the Bulldogs to just 11 field goals, its best defensive showing since doing the same to Providence in 20014-15.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks know how to get to the free throws line, leading Division I with 715 attempts. They have had 10 games this season with at least 30 trips to the line, including 36 in the win over LSU this past Wednesday.
ULIS IN CHARGE
Calipari may have been ejected, but he was on the court in Ulis, Payne said. Calipari and Ulis are completely in sync about the offense and that showed against South Carolina.
“The story isn’t someone else coaching the team, the story is coach Cal coached the team through Tyler Ulis,” Payne said.
Carrera though the tenor of the game changed early when he missed three of four free throws after the technicals on Calipari. “That’s how the game goes some time,” he said.
Kentucky hosts Tennessee on Thursday night.
South Carolina is at Missouri on Tuesday night.