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Feb. 7, 2007

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Ramel Bradley scored 21 points and Bobby Perry added a season-high 18 to help No. 20 Kentucky beat South Carolina 95-89 on Wednesday night.

The Wildcats (18-5, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) handed the Gamecocks a 38-point thumping last month in Columbia – South Carolina’s worst home loss since 1915. This one appeared headed that way too before the Gamecocks (12-10, 2-7) made a furious second half run to make it close.

Kentucky built a 50-28 halftime lead – its highest first half point total since getting 60 against Florida A&M in the first round of the 2004 NCAA tournament.

But with three minutes left, South Carolina used two steals to get three baskets – two by Brandon Wallace – in the span of just 12 seconds to cut the lead to 87-77. Tre Kelley got five of his career-high 36 points in the final seconds before time ran out on the comeback attempt.

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith made his first starting lineup change in 16 games, inserting Lukasz Obrzut at center in place of the team’s leading scorer, Randolph Morris. Smith had expressed displeasure with the Wildcats’ defensive play – and Morris’ in particular – Saturday against Arkansas.

Morris had 17 points – one of four Wildcats in double-digits.

Smith has often benched players to make a statement. During a drought last season, he yanked from the starting lineup several starters – including Rajon Rondo, an eventual NBA first round draft pick who now plays for the Boston Celtics.

Although the Wildcats responded defensively in the first half, holding the Gamecocks to 38 percent shooting, South Carolina made 57 percent of its second half shots.

Kentucky never trailed in the game as Obrzut made an immediate impact, getting the opening tip and scoring on a three-point play. After that, Perry provided the offense to give the Wildcats an early cushion.

Perry had 10 points before South Carolina scored its sixth as the Wildcats got off to a 20-5 lead. He scored eight of his points – including two 3-pointers – in the span of about a minute.

The Wildcats used a 13-0 run early in the first half and a 15-2 run a few minutes on the way to what appeared would be their second straight route of the Gamecocks. But Kelley – a senior whose previous career high was 29 last month against Vanderbilt – had four of the team’s 12 3-pointers.

Kentucky will try to snap a four-game losing streak against defending national champion Florida when the Gators head to Rupp Arena Saturday night.