Suddenly, the team with no stopper nor go-to guy nor identity is within one game of first place in the Southeastern Conference.
Kentucky looked anything but lacking in shellacking South Carolina 77-55 Tuesday night.
The victory improved UK to 16-6 overall and 7-2 in the SEC. With Florida losing at Arkansas earlier in the evening, the Cats found themselves within a game of first. With four of the next six games in Rupp Arena, first place itself looks entirely possible.
UK equaled its most lopsided league victory (the 75-53 rout at Auburn, which comes to Rupp Arena on Saturday) thanks in part to good shooting. Often that was good lobbing and dunking. But the Cats made 61.4 percent of their shots. That marked only the third time this season — and first since the LIU Brooklyn game on Nov. 23 — that Kentucky made more than 60 percent of its shots.
Julius Mays led a balanced UK attack with 15 points. Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein added 13 each.
Nerlens Noel, who has won the SEC's Freshman of the Week award the past three weeks, scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He blocked five shots.
South Carolina, which lost for the sixth time in its last eight games, fell to 12-10 overall and 2-7 in the league.
Freshman Michael Carrera, a native of Venezuela, led the Gamecocks with 18 points.
The highest-scoring first half since the Samford game on Dec. 4 put Kentucky ahead 45-24 at halftime.
The Cats outscored South Carolina 28-6 in the final 10 minutes to take the commanding lead. Ryan Harrow and Goodwin led the way with 10 points each in the first half.
South Carolina, which scored only 10 points in the first half at Florida last week, surpassed that total with a basket at the 14:41 mark. A layup put the Gamecocks ahead 18-17, prompting a Kentucky timeout with 10:19 left.
It was all Kentucky thereafter.
Cauley-Stein's post-up basket and three-point play put UK ahead 22-18 and drew cheers.
The ovation grew louder when Harrow separated Bruce Ellington from the ball on the ensuing inbounds and made the easy layup.
Goodwin gave UK its first double-digit lead in emphatic fashion. He drove in transition and flew in for a dunk. That put the Cats ahead 28-18 with 7:40 left.
South Carolina went more than three minutes without a point and made only two baskets in the final 10:19 of the half.
The Gamecocks, who came into the game ranked last among SEC teams in shooting, made only 28.1 percent of their first-half shots (9-for-32).
UK, which made 68.2 percent of its shots in the half, dominated rebounding 22-10 and points in the paint 24-8.
The Cats scored the game's first seven points and did not allow a South Carolina basket until the 16:46 mark.
Ellington, who was South Carolina's leading scorer (10.6 ppg) and assist man (2.8 per game) in league play, did not take a shot nor get credit for an assist in the first half. He had two fouls by the 17-minute mark and was not a factor.
Ellington scored his first points with two free throws at the 18:07 mark of the second half.
Carrera scored eight of South Carolina's first 12 points of the second half. That kept the Gamecocks within shouting distance.
But this was Kentucky's night. Mays hit a three-pointer from the left corner as the shot clock buzzed to get the Cats going.
Later, Noel posted up Carrera, who is 5 inches shorter, for an easy-as-you-please basket.
Mays made his first four three-point shots. He didn't miss from anywhere until a misfire from beyond the arc with 10:21 left. By then, Kentucky led by 22 and needed only to set the final score.
Alex Poythress scored hustle points down the stretch. He ran back in transition fast enough to deflect Ellington's fast-break pass off a South Carolina player out of bounds.
The fans were hardly done giving Poythress an encouraging cheer when he rebounded Noel's missed free throw and scored while being fouled.
Auburn at Kentucky
When: 4 p.m. TV: WKYT-27
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227 Twitter: @JerryTipton Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com