COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)—Joe Crawford had a feeling it could be his night.
During warmups at the Carolina Coliseum on Tuesday, the Kentucky junior kept swishing outside shots.
“I loved the rims today. I couldn’t miss. I hit four 3s in a row,” Crawford said.
Once the game began, Crawford’s touch continued as he matched his career high with 23 points to help the Wildcats to their 11th straight victory, 87-49 over South Carolina on Tuesday night.
Crawford was 3-for-3 from behind the arc in the first six minutes for Kentucky (15-3, 4-0 Southeastern Conference). When the Gamecocks tightened up their defense, Crawford easily found his points closer to the basket.
“I didn’t want to force anything. We were up,” Crawford said. “With people concentrating on me, it made the game a lot easier when I passed it.”
The result was a blowout of historic proportions—no team had beaten South Carolina this badly at home since Wake Forest’s 64-11 win in 1915.
The Gamecocks (10-6, 0-3) have lost four in a row by a combined 112 points.
“These guys are not what they have been in the past, but you don’t want to let up one bit because they’re still a team in the SEC,” Kentucky guard Ramel Bradley said. “We wanted to come, just lay it on these guys from the start to the finish.”
With Crawford on the outside and Randolph Morris on the inside, that’s exactly what Kentucky did.
Crawford finished 9-of-12 from the field, while Morris added 17 points and 11 rebounds. Bradley had 15 points, all on 3s.
But it was Crawford who got things started. He had 17 points in the first half as the Wildcats opened a 37-27 lead.
Crawford had three field goals and Morris converted a layup during a 3-minute sequence to put Kentucky ahead 30-19.
When South Carolina cut the lead to 30-25—the closest it would come the rest of the way—the Wildcats finished the half on a 7-2 run, including two free throws by Crawford.
Morris says Kentucky has steadily improved since it lost to North Carolina on Dec. 2.
“All the games we have played so far, we are learning from them and getting better,” Morris said. “That’s the most important thing.”
For South Carolina, the free fall continues. The futile stretch began with a loss to No. 5 Kansas (70-54), and continued with flops against Georgia (80-56) and top-ranked Florida (84-50).
South Carolina plays at No. 22 Tennessee on Saturday.
Gamecocks coach Dave Odom took the blame for the team’s poor play.
“What the answer is, I don’t know,” Odom said somberly. “We’ve got to grab control of the game again.”
Tre Kelley led South Carolina with 19 points.
Crawford left the game for good with about 5 minutes to play. Moments earlier, the junior matched his career best of 23 points for the fourth time.
Crawford started hot—eerily similar to the 5-for-5 long-range performance Florida’s Lee Humphrey hung on South Carolina to start that game—and the Wildcats picked it up from there.
South Carolina threatened briefly near the end of the first half when consecutive 3s by Kelley and Brandis Raley-Ross drew the Gamecocks to 30-25. Bradley answered with a 3, Morris made a layup and Crawford hit two free throws to give the Wildcats the 37-27 halftime lead.
One game after Kelley questioned his teammates’ desire and skills, he was still essentially a one-man show for South Carolina.
Kelley had six of the Gamecocks’ 10 first-half field goals and 16 points. No other Gamecock had more than five points in the half.
Kelley was held to a 3-pointer in the second half.
“We work hard enough to not deserve losses in that type of fashion,” Kelley said.