The gaudy scoring and rebounding margins in South Carolina's favor made it difficult to find a bright spot for Kentucky.
But the Cats found one in freshman Makayla Epps.
The guard scored a career-high 16 points in 17 minutes and played without a turnover. The Kentucky Miss Basketball from Marion County made six of her eight shot attempts, with her two misses coming from three-point range.
When UK needed baskets midway through the second half, Epps scored six straight, including the fast-break bucket with 9:30 to go that helped the Cats cut the lead to 11 points.
"I looked at the scoreboard maybe once and they were up by 20 and I was like, 'It can't get (any) worse, just go. Fight to the finish,'" Epps said.
With four minutes to go and UK trailing by a wide margin, Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell told Epps she'd stay in there and finish the game. He urged her to keep playing hard and trying to set the pace. "That's what I tried to do, just keep attacking," she said.
Her head coach was pleased with what he saw from Epps, who hasn't scored in double figures since Southeastern Conference play started, including a stretch of seven straight games where she didn't score at all.
"She played well," Mitchell said. "She was able to use her size and strength to make some plays in transition that were available to us and I thought played with some good tempo offensively.
"She's a talented player and she'll just keep getting better. She had a really good night."
Tourney tickets on sale
Single-session tickets for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament at Memorial Coliseum are on sale now and can be purchased online at Ukathletics.com or at the Joe Craft Center Ticket office, the school announced.
Reserve tickets for the first two rounds, which Kentucky will host, are $22 for adults (ages 19-64), $15 for youth (ages 0-18) and for seniors (ages 65 and up).
The group rate for 10 more seats on the bleacher side of the building are $8.
All-session tickets are $36 for adults, $24 for youth and seniors and those are valid for two games on March 22 and the one game on March 24. All seating for this event will be reserved and each individual will require a ticket.
Kentucky was outrebounded 44-19 by South Carolina, which held the Cats to just five offensive rebounds. In all, UK had four second-chance points compared to 12 for the Gamecocks.
Coming into this game, the Cats had never been outrebounded by more than 12, which came in the four overtime win over Baylor in December.
"It's something we've got to learn from," guard Jennifer O'Neill said. "We've got practice tomorrow and a game Sunday. We have to come out, rebound and be a better rebounding team than that."
■ The loss moves UK's record against ranked opponents to 4-3, including 3-3 versus teams ranked in the top 10.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.