Trying to hang on to the No. 2 spot in the SEC standings with tournament time rapidly approaching, the Wildcats fell victim to league cellar-dweller South Carolina, 72-67, on Saturday in Columbia. It marked the second time in less than 72 hours that No. 17 Kentucky had been upset, coming on the heels of Thursday's home loss to Arkansas.
Kentucky (21-8, 11-5 SEC) experienced one of its worst offensive performances since head coach John Calipari arrived in Lexington in 2009. The Wildcats shot 17 percent (5 of 29) in the first half and hovered around that mark until a late flurry of baskets helped trim an 16-point deficit to one with 22 seconds to play.
Calipari wasn't around to see it, at least in person. The UK boss was thrown out of the game after picking up his second technical with 10:25 remaining. It was the third technical foul against the Wildcats, including another against the UK bench in general, which resulted in six made free throws for the Gamecocks.
"I wish I didn't get thrown out of the game, so that I could fight with our team," Calipari said. "... Proud of the guys for not giving up, but we all have to figure out what do we each have to do to get this team right?"
Kentucky shot 27 percent (14 of 52) for the game, which negated an overwhelming 46-28 rebounding advantage and a 33-of-42 shooting effort at the free throw line. The offensive woes included UK's best player, freshman forward Julius Randle, a national player of the year finalist, going 1-for-7 from the floor and making his first basket with only 22 seconds left in the game.
The Cats were ultimately done in by a 13:32 stretch from late in the first half until early in the second half in which they failed to record a basket. The drought ended – somewhat fittingly – on a ball that did not even complete its path through the net, a goaltending call on South Carolina which gave UK center Willie Cauley-Stein two points with 14:23 left in the game.
By then, UK was about to go down 50-32 with the Gamecocks smelling blood in the water.
A 14-2 run, including 3-pointers by Aaron Harrison and James Young, pulled the Cats within 57-53 with 4:35 to go. Threes by Andrew Harrison and Young helped UK stay within striking distance before a wild sequence near the end of the game.
Trailing 68-61, Aaron Harrison buried a 3-pointer. Young then stole the in-bound pass and dished to Randle for an old-fashioned three-point play to stun the crowd and make it 68-67 with 22 seconds left.
The Cats fouled on the subsequent in-bound pass, but Sindarius Thornwell hit two free throws to give South Carolina a 70-67 lead.
Kentucky's last hope came on an Alex Poythress 3-point attempt that came up just short with 6.1 seconds left. A scramble for the rebound ensued, and officials ruled that it deflected out of bounds off the hand of Young. Williams hit both free throws to seal the victory for the Gamecocks.
Thornwell scored 14 points for South Carolina. Michael Carrera added 11 points and seven rebounds.
Aaron Harrison led Kentucky with 21 points, but went 4-for-16 from the floor. Young scored 19 points for the Cats, but finished 4-for-12 from the floor with five turnovers. Randle recorded his 15th double-double of the season, recording 10 points and 15 rebounds.
• Kentucky leads the overall series 47-11 and 18-7 in Columbia.
• The Cats are 3-6 this season when trailing at halftime. South Carolina led 31-28 at the break.
• UK's 33 points at the free throw line were the second-most in a game during the Calipari era.
• Julius Randle moved into fourth place in the UK freshman record book with 303 rebounds, moving past Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He also moved to 11th on the freshman scoring list, tallying his 449th point to move past Sam Bowie.
• The Cats return to action with the home finale on Tuesday against Alabama. Tipoff is slated for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.