Kentucky's players sat in the locker room at halftime and wondered if they were about to be on the receiving end of a different kind of Valentine's Day massacre.
The ninth-ranked Cats had just been embarrassed by a bad first half of basketball. They'd fallen behind No. 16 South Carolina by 14 points at the break and they waited for what was sure to be a tirade from UK Coach Matthew Mitchell.
"We didn't know what he was going to do," senior A'dia Mathies confided later.
He didn't exactly hand out flowers and candy hearts.
Instead, Mitchell calmly told his team to let go of the bad half, which he later would describe as "kind of a perfect storm for a really bad half of basketball," and he talked about hustle and defense.
Somehow those things helped Kentucky come back from a 16-point deficit early in the second half and top South Carolina 78-74 on Thursday night in Memorial Coliseum.
It not only was UK's largest comeback of the season, but its largest comeback since Mitchell took over as coach.
"You have to give our kids credit for hanging in and overcoming a significant deficit to earn what will be a great, great victory," said Mitchell, whose team handed South Carolina its first loss of the season when it led at the half. "I'm real proud of our players from not giving up, hanging in there and beating a really good team."
Not only did Kentucky (22-3, 10-2 Southeastern Conference) have to dig down deep to make the big run, but it also had to dig back into some old playbooks.
Mitchell started the second half with four guards and a center, as UK had done so successfully in previous seasons.
And with those four guards, UK focused on trying to win each four-minute segment.
"I don't know how many we won," Mathies said, "but we won enough because we got the victory. We knew we couldn't get a 14-point play."
UK got a big portion of its points back by scoring nine unanswered, including seven by Mathies, to grab its first lead of the second half with 3:39 to go. Most of those points came in transition, something South Carolina had managed to take away much of the game.
Mathies, who missed nine of her first 10 shots of the game, capped the run with a huge three-pointer in transition.
"I felt like we needed to get over the hump at some point and that was a huge three," Mitchell said. "It really electrified our crowd. I'm sure it was somewhat deflating to South Carolina. ... When Memorial Coliseum explodes like that, it's a huge advantage for us, a huge lift for us and it's got to be tough on the opponent."
Mathies finished with 15 points, including 11 in the second half, and six rebounds. Jennifer O'Neill led four players in double figures with 19 points and six rebounds.
Bria Goss had 13 points and Kastine Evans added 11, including seven in the final three minutes. Playing at the power forward spot much of the second half, she hit a huge three-pointer with 3:15 to play.
Then O'Neill found Evans cutting toward the basket and found her with 25 seconds to go to put UK up 74-72.
O'Neill hit two free throws (UK made 17 of 19 from the charity stripe in the second half) to extend the lead. Evans iced it with her own made foul shots.
The Gamecocks (20-5, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) shot a season-high 56 percent from the field and outrebounded Kentucky 40-33, but after scoring nine points on putbacks in the first half, they didn't have a single one in the second half.
Elem Ibiam and Aleighsa Welch led five South Carolina players in double figures with 15 points apiece. Ashley Bruner added 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Kentucky scored 24 points off 22 South Carolina turnovers, while turning the ball over just nine times for the game.
UK was able to put a bad first half behind it just in time to win the little battles in the second half, Evans said.
"It was definitely a mental thing and understanding we had a bad first half and it happens," she said. "It showed a lot about the character of our team and how we want to play to finish out the season by getting the win."
No. 9 Kentucky at No. 11 Texas A&M
When: Monday, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241 Twitter: @jenheraldleader Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com