COLUMBIA, S.C. – Brandon Knight scored 23 points and No. 12 Kentucky held off a late South Carolina charge for a 67-58 victory Saturday night.
The Wildcats (15-4, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) spent much of the week dealing with the fallout from John Calipari's cuss-filled dress-down of freshman forward Terrence Jones in last Tuesday's loss at Alabama.
The coach probably wanted to swear a few times down the stretch in this one when Kentucky's 16-point lead slipped to 61-56 with 1:16 left. But Doron Lamb hit four consecutive foul shots and the Wildcats escaped with their first victory at the Colonial Life Arena in three years.
Darius Miller added 18 points for Kentucky.
Sam Muldrow tied his career high with 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead the Gamecocks (12-6, 3-2).
Kentucky hadn't fared well at South Carolina the past few seasons and its 68-62 loss here a year ago was one of last season's most talked-up stunners.
Those Wildcats had just reached No. 1 for the first time in seven years and, a few hours before tip-off, took a congratulatory call from President Barack Obama for their fundraising efforts for Haitian earthquake victims.
It all seemed too much for that group, who featured the NBA's top draft pick, John Wall, and fellow first-rounder DeMarcus Cousins.
The newest Wildcats also entered this game with days of distractions after Calipari was caught on camera swearing at Jones during a timeout in the loss to Alabama.
But this time, Kentucky and especially Jones, thrived when they hit the court.
Jones, making his first start in four games, threw down an electrifying assortment of jams and dunks in the first half as Kentucky pulled away.
He had two straight power jams to give the Wildcats a 10-5 lead. Jones had another one-handed flush to make it 20-12 with 11:06 before halftime. He appeared to roll his ankle after his final dunk that put Kentucky up 30-20 and was briefly looked at on the bench. Jones returned to action moments later.
South Carolina struggled to keep up. Its own stellar freshman, point guard Bruce Ellington, played just 8 minutes with foul trouble.
The Gamecocks went more than 7 minutes without a field goal during one stretch.
The best moments for South Carolina fans in the sold-out arena were football-related.
The crowd burst into chants of "We want Clowney" when the nation's No. 1 college prospect, South Pointe defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, found his seat next to coach Steve Spurrier.
Then Spurrier took the microphone at halftime to talk up his team's future and show off trophies won for winning the SEC Eastern Division and defeating rival Clemson last fall.
Spurrier and his football recruits had little else to cheer about after that as Kentucky took control.
Knight seemed to ice things with eight consecutive points that pushed the Wildcats' lead to 61-45 before South Carolina's final run.
The Gamecocks struggled to get good shots against Kentucky, finishing 16 of 51 (31 percent). They were just 2 of 15 on 3-pointers.
South Carolina's top scorer, Ellington, shot 2 of 7 and scored four points, almost 11 off his season average.