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Jan. 21, 2006

Final Stats

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Rajon Rondo hit a 3-pointer with one-second left – his second buzzer-beating game-winner in three weeks, as Kentucky defeated South Carolina 80-78 Saturday to snap a two-game home losing streak.

After his fade-away jumper with a second left defeated Central Florida Jan. 3, the sophomore guard claimed he had never done that before in his career – including high school. He can’t claim that anymore.

With the victory, Kentucky (12-6, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) avoided losing its first three conference home games for the first time ever. That brush with unwanted history came in the presence of one of the most heralded Kentucky teams of all time.

Members of “Rupp’s Runts,” Kentucky’s 1965-66 team that was national runner-up, were on hand for the game. Four of the starting five attended, but current Miami Heat coach Pat Riley, who had planned to join them, had a conflict and couldn’t make it.

The team, coached by the late Hall of Famer Adolph Rupp, plays the role of villain in the new film “Glory Road,” which is about that season’s champions, Texas Western, which was the first to start an all-black lineup in the title game.

Not since the 1966-67 season, the year after the Runts, had Kentucky lost three straight home games.

Antoine Tisby’s two free-throws gave South Carolina (10-8, 1-4) a 78-77 lead with 10 seconds left. Tisby went to the line amid vocal protests from Kentucky coach Tubby Smith and the Rupp Arena crowd, who argued Tisby traveled.

Instead, the foul was called on center Randolph Morris – his fifth, which ousted him from the game.

Kentucky had pulled ahead on a 3-pointer by Patrick Sparks, one of his four on the day. Sparks, a senior guard, had 14 points, his highest total since scoring 25 on Nov. 22 against West Virginia.

Joe Crawford led the Wildcats with 15 points, Bobby Perry had 13 and Morris added 12. Tarence Kinsey’s 21 points led the Gamecocks.

South Carolina went on a 15-0 run early in the second half to lead 58-46, but the Wildcats rediscovered their touch and scored 20 of the next 24 points.

The Kentucky run came largely without Morris, who picked up his fourth foul with 11:30 left and was held out of most of the rest of the game.

For the first time in several games, Kentucky shot well out of the gate, but so did South Carolina. The teams combined for eight 3-pointers in the first eight minutes and 12 in the half, including three each by Kentucky’s Sparks and Carolina’s Dwayne Day, who had 18 points and tied a career-high with four total 3-pointers.

Kentucky made 56 percent of its shots from the field in the game, and South Carolina hit 52 percent. The Gamecocks won the rebounding battle, 31-25.

It was a seesaw battle most of the half, and the longest run was South Carolina’s six consecutive points in the final two minutes. Sparks immediately answered that with a 3-pointer to give Kentucky a 40-38 lead at halftime.

Although the Wildcats shot well, the mental lapses that plagued them in recent losses to Kansas, Vanderbilt and Alabama dogged them again on occasion. In consecutive possessions in the first half, the team was called for over and back, then Rondo threw the ball out of bounds when Sparks was looking the other way.

Ahead of Tuesday’s victory at Georgia, coach Tubby Smith enlisted an assistant professor in sports leadership to try to help pull the team out of its slump.