Columbia, SC (SportsNetwork.com) - Devin Booker scored 18 points and top- ranked Kentucky put forth a dominating defensive effort to stay unbeaten with a 58-43 victory over South Carolina on Saturday.
Aaron Harrison added 13 points for the Wildcats (19-0, 6-0 SEC), who held South Carolina to just 22.6 percent from the field and blocked nine shots. Kentucky is off to its best start since the 2009-10 squad also opened the season with 19 straight wins
"When you have good players, you win a lot of games," said Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Sindarius Thornwell was South Carolina's lone player in double figures with 14 points. Leading scorer Duane Notice missed each of his five field goal attempts and finished with just two points for the Gamecocks (10-8, 1-5), who have lost three straight and five of their last six games.
Kentucky dropped a 72-67 decision in its last visit to Colonial Life Arena last March and struggled somewhat in the first half Saturday before a late first-half run created some breathing room.
A Booker three started a string of seven straight Kentucky points for a 13-8 lead early and the advantage was six at 17-11 after a trey by Harrison with just over 12 minutes left in the half.
South Carolina didn't attempt a shot from beyond the arc until Thornwell drained one from the right wing to cap a run of seven straight South Carolina points. It gave the Gamecocks a 24-23 lead with 4 1/2 minutes to play in the half, but South Carolina didn't score again before the intermission.
The Gamecocks missed their final six shots and turned the ball over three times during the stretch. Kentucky took full advantage with 11 points, four each from Booker and Tyler Ulis, to grab a 34-24 margin at the break.
Booker opened the second half with another 3-pointer and South Carolina could not trim the deficit to single digits. The Wildcats did it with suffocating defense, as the Gamecocks made just 4-of-23 shots in the closing 20 minutes.
"We're not going to hang our heads," said South Carolina coach Frank Martin. "That's not going to happen. We lost today because we played a really good basketball team and we didn't make shots."
Kentucky went more than 10 minutes without a made field goal during the second half, but hit nine free throws during that stretch to keep South Carolina at bay. The Wildcats led by as many as 18 in the final minutes.
Booker finished 2-for-4 from 3-point range and has made 22-of-33 from beyond the arc in his last nine games ... Marcus Lee had four blocks for the Wildcats ... Kentucky shot 46.2 percent, dominating inside with a 24-14 margin in the paint ... The Wildcats converted 12 South Carolina turnovers into 21 points and outscored the Gamecocks 12-2 in transition ... South Carolina held a 40-28 rebounding advantage, thanks to an 18-3 edge on the offensive glass ... The Gamecocks fell to 1-11 all-time against the top-ranked team in the country, with its only win coming against Kentucky on Jan. 26, 2010 ... Kentucky next plays Thursday at Missouri. The Wildcats pounded Mizzou, 86-37, on Jan. 13 in Lexington ... South Carolina will visit LSU on Wednesday.