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Updated: Wednesday, January 5, 2005 11:58 PM EST
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(8) Kentucky 79, South Carolina 75

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (Ticker) -- South Carolina shot the lights out in the first half. Kelenna Azubuike took over in the second half as Kentucky posted its usual result.

Azubuike scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half to lead eighth-ranked Kentucky to its 17th win in the last 18 Southeastern Conference openers, a 79-75 triumph over South Carolina.

Carlos Powell scored 13 points and the Gamecocks shot 59 percent (17-of-29) to take a 41-35 lead at the half, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Wildcats to improve to 18-1 in their last 19 games against SEC foes.

"It was a tale of two different halves," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "We did what we had to control the game in the second half. I have to give South Carolina credit. They were very quick and athletic. They challenged every shot and made it tough for us to make plays. This is the first team in 42 games to shoot over 50 percent against us."

South Carolina finished at just under 54 percent (30-of-56) shooting but turned the ball over 17 times and were outpointed, 17-7, at the line.

Azubuike shot 5-of-7 from the floor in the second half, knocking down three of his four 3-pointers, and Powell was held to just one field goal and three shots after the intermission.

"This was an important win for us," Azubuike said. "South Carolina is a great shooting team. Even though we didn't do everything right, we still played pretty well. There are no SEC teams that you can walk over. You have to come ready to play every game."

Down 53-50 with just under nine minutes to play, Azubuike scored six points and the Wildcats scored on seven straight possessions to take a 66-57 lead.

Chuck Hayes scored 10 of his 15 points after halftime and added 10 rebounds for Kentucky (10-1, 1-0 SEC), which may have been looking ahead to its matchup Sunday with No. 2 Kansas.

Rajon Rondo, a freshman, scored 11 points and posted season highs of five rebounds and five assists. Patrick Sparks contributed 10 and seven assists.

Tre Kelley scored 19 points for South Carolina (8-4, 0-1), which lost its third straight road game to a Top 10 opponent this season. The Gamecocks played well in close losses to Pittsburgh and Kansas in December.

"I was very disappointed that we weren't able to hold on and hold our own defensively in the second half," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "Obviously, when you're ahead of a team like Kentucky early, they're going to give a giant effort in the second half and they did that tonight. I'm disappointed that we weren't able to be competitive and resistant inside and I find that hard to accept."

© 2005 STATS, Inc