COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Kentucky has a pretty good defense to go along with what might be the Southeastern Conference's best offense.
Kentucky (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 9 AP) beat South Carolina 66-58 on Sunday, forcing the Gamecocks (No. 24 AP) into 28 turnovers and holding them to just 38 percent shooting as the Wildcats (16-2, 5-0 SEC) continued their best ever league start and are now alone atop the league.
The Wildcats came in averaging 81 points a game, but the Gamecocks (14-4, 3-2) and their SEC leading defense held them 15 below their average in a bruising, physical game where there was contact on nearly every drive and three bodies on the floor for every loose ball.
"I just think they showed tremendous toughness," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "This is a huge, huge win for us to be able to come on a quality team's home court and on a day they make it so tough for you to find a way."
South Carolina took a one-point lead at the half on a 3-pointer just before the buzzer by Sancheon White and steadily built the lead to eight on Ieasia Walker's 3-pointer that put the Gamecocks ahead 44-36 with 11 minutes to go.
Mitchell called a time-out and put in a zone press. He also challenged his team not to let the game get away so easily.
"We needed to change the game. We need to change our energy. We needed to get some stops on defense. I felt like if we could ever get some stops and get in transition, we could score some buckets," Mitchell said.
Over the next five minutes, Kentucky would force five turnovers and three missed shots. The Gamecocks managed a free throw, but the Wildcats then scored 11 straight points. Kastine Evans' 3-pointer -- Kentucky's first of the game -- tied things at 45, then Azia Bishop's short jumper put Kentucky ahead for the first time in the second half at 47-45 with 6:52 to go.
Sancheon White buried a 3 to give the Gamecocks the lead briefly, but Snowden answered with a jumper, and the Wildcats would lead for the rest of the way. Their 66 points were the most allowed by South Carolina so far this season.
"We just kept fighting and forcing turnovers and that's how we got back in the game," said Brittany Henderson, who scored eight points and had six rebounds.
Kelya Snowden led the Wildcats with 15 points. Kentucky's two leading scorers coming in combined for just 11 points. A'dia Mathies scored just eight points after leading the Wildcats with 34 in their upset of Tennessee last time out. Bria Goss added just three points.
But Mitchell said leaders like Mathies do other things when they can't score. He let the guard inbound the ball against South Carolina's press, which was forcing 21 turnovers a game. Mathies turned the ball over just three times.
"She stayed strong. She didn't get thrown off her game at all or get rattled. She just kept making plays," Mitchell said. "It was not a 34-point performance, but it was still a winning performance."
Kentucky was just 2 of 13 on 3-pointers and were outrebounded 40-30. But the Wildcats, tops in the SEC in turnover margin, forced South Carolina into 10 more turnovers.
"We just couldn't overcome the turnovers," said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley.
The Gamecocks, who haven't beaten a Top 10 team in a decade, also didn't help out themselves, making just 12 of 25 free throws.
"That's been our nemesis all year long," Staley said.
Walker led South Carolina with 14 points. La'Keisha Sutton scored 12 points and Aleighsa Welch added 11 points.
The Gamecocks lost twice this week and will likely tumble out of the top 25 after making into the poll this week for the first time since the end of the 2002-03 season. South Carolina made the NCAA tournament that year, but has not been back since.
The Wildcats beat a ranked SEC team on the road for just the third time in the past decade and are nearly halfway to matching their team-best 11 SEC wins achieved each of the last two seasons.
Mitchell is letting his team celebrate its first win in Columbia in nearly three years during the trip back to Kentucky. Then he expects them to start paying attention to their trip to Georgia (No. 16 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP) on Thursday.
"Every win we can generate is tough to get and precious," Mitchell said. "We will be just really happy this afternoon, and then we're back in our schedule."