COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Joe Crawford had a career-high 35 points as Kentucky continued its late charge to the NCAA tournament with a 71-63 victory over South Carolina on Wednesday night.
The Wildcats (17-11, 11-4 Southeastern Conference) have won 10 of their past 12 games after a 7-9 start under first-year coach Billy Gillispie left many in the Bluegrass State in shock. Since late January, though, Kentucky has played more like the team that takes a spot in the NCAA tournament for granted.
The win spoiled the final home game for South Carolina’s retiring coach Dave Odom.
Kentucky seemed to have the game locked up with about 10 minutes left. Crawford hit two straight 3-pointers — one swished in from about 30 feet away — and followed with a jumper. When Ramel Bradley hit two foul shots with 9:09 left, the Wildcats were ahead 56-40.
The Gamecocks (13-16, 5-10) rallied to tighten things up. Brandis Raley-Ross and Zam Fredrick had 3s as South Carolina used a 17-6 run to trail 62-57 with 3:52 remaining.
But Bradley hit a 3-pointer, then broke free for a layup to restore control for Kentucky.
Bradley added 20 points for the Wildcats, who finish the regular season at home against defending national champion Florida.
Crawford surpassed his previous career best of 32 set in November against Texas Southern.
Fredrick led the way for the Gamecocks with 19 points.
Before the game, South Carolina honored Odom, who announced in January he would retire at season’s end. Odom’s wife, Lynn, his family and Terry Holland, his former boss at Virginia, joined the coach on court for a two-minute video tribute.
Afterward, the crowd at the Carolina Coliseum gave the seven-year coach a standing ovation. Two fans held up a simple sign, “Thanks Dave.”
Neither team looked particularly crisp at the beginning, each committing a shot-clock violation before the game was two minutes old.
But after Devan Downey’s foul shot put the Gamecocks up 8-7, Kentucky went on a 12-3 run the next nine minutes to take control. It didn’t hurt that South Carolina went 8:42 seconds between field goals, enduring an 0-for-12 stretch before Dwayne Day’s bucket ended the drought with 7:21 left in the half.