COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — As long as South Carolina has Devan Downey, the season isn't over.
The senior scored 30 points to lead the Gamecocks (12-8, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) to a 68-62 win over No. 1 Kentucky on Tuesday night, an upset made even more remarkable considering South Carolina lost two of its starters before SEC play even began.
Downey is dragging the Gamecocks almost all by himself, scoring 31 of his team's 68 points per game in conference games.
"We don't have a chance to win this game if we don't have somebody like him," Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn said.
Downey believes this is the kind of win that can propel the team to bigger things.
"We still feel like all of our goals are in front of us," he said. "To me, this is motivation. I wish we had practice tomorrow so we could get back in the gym and work."
The Wildcats (19-1, 4-1), no longer the last unbeaten team in the country, will likely keep their first top ranking in seven years for just a week. That doesn't bother coach John Calipari that much, because he has been telling his team they have to play hard for 40 minutes, and can't expect just to swoop in at the end and win.
"It's a great lesson. I've been saying it all year — but a lot of times, until you take an 'L' they don't want to believe you. Especially, with how young we are."
This game was expected to be a showdown between all-SEC Downey and the conference's most talented freshman in John Wall. Wall scored 19 points, but shot 6 for 16 and disappeared for long stretches as the Gamecocks put a power forward on him.
South Carolina also got physical with the Wildcats. The Gamecocks outrebounded Kentucky by four — only the second time in 11 games they've had the advantage on the boards. Freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins did score 27 points and had 12 rebounds, but every time he got the ball he had to fight off at least two swarming Gamecocks.
"It got rough out there now. That thing was rough. We tried to catch it in the post, people over the top were pushing, shoving," Calipari said. "Well, that's the way the game was going to be played. You better bow up your neck and go make plays."
The 5-foot-9 Downey is never afraid to mix it up. He drove through and around four defenders Saturday for what appeared to be the game winner against Florida, only to watch the Gators push the ball up in 5 seconds with Chandler Parsons burying the winning 3-pointer.
He took it to Kentucky's big men, too, making 10 of 11 free throws to offset 9-for-29 shooting from the field.
"I knew that my team needed me to score, so I couldn't be gun-shy," said Downey, who was the top high school player in South Carolina in 2005, but decided to go to Cincinnati. He spent a year with the Bearcats before coming home.
With the Wildcats up 47-42, Downey took over. He had a three-point play and two foul shots to tie it up. Downey had another three-point play with 4:06 left to give the Gamecocks the lead for good, 54-51.
Downey made two more baskets before turning it over to his teammates to make the free throws to seal the Gamecocks' first-ever win over a No. 1 team in eight tries. They also have beaten Kentucky three straight times. Before the start of the 2008-09 season, they had only beaten the Wildcats seven other times.
Calipari was impressed with his first look at Downey.
"He made the tough shots. We were saying if he makes tough shots it's going to be hard. And he made about three tough ones at tough times," Calipari said.
And Kentucky's coach hopes his young team learned a lesson watching the old SEC veteran Downey do the things he was supposed to do instead of trying to make the fancy plays to get on highlight tapes.
"As I sat there and watched it unfold," Calipari said. "I said this is what happens to a young team."