COLUMBIA -- Things have been moving in the wrong direction for South Carolina's basketball team for a month, but the Gamecocks started to fall Saturday at a far more precipitous rate.
Kentucky scored the first 15 points of the game against USC, racing away to a 90-59 victory in Rupp Arena.
"I'm incredibly disappointed in our team, that we didn't compete," Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn said after the game. "One thing we've prided ourselves on, with all the challenges we've had, is we're going to play hard. We're going to compete. We've done that.
"That didn't happen. There's really no excuse for that."
Chances to change course are quickly running out for the Gamecocks, who have lost five in a row and seven of eight after a 3-1 start in league play. Mystifyingly, two of those three early SEC wins were against the conference's top two teams, Vanderbilt and Florida.
Now, though, South Carolina (13-12, 4-8 SEC) is in danger of falling to .500 overall as it prepares to host Ole Miss (17-10, 5-7). Tip today inside Colonial Life Arena is at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
To Horn, the time for talking about confidence has come and gone. Even if the Gamecocks are inexperienced in the big picture, Horn says the season is nearly over. Surely some experience must have been gleaned in the first 25 games.
He said South Carolina might be leaning on its youth crutch a bit too hard when adversity hits, as it did Saturday at Kentucky.
"You have to make your mind up you're going to compete regardless," he said. "We've just got to grow up a little bit."
Some physical hurdles are prohibiting that growth. Starting forward Lakeem Jackson will be sidelined tonight for the third consecutive game. Horn said there's a chance he could return from his left foot injury Saturday when USC travels to Georgia. Freshman forward Damontre Harris has a mild knee injury, but he should play tonight.
Concerning, too, is the fact that freshman point guard Bruce Ellington continues to be limited by a calf injury. It's affecting every aspect of his game. The Berkeley product was 1 for 11 from the field Saturday, and he's shooting 34 percent for the year.
"Obviously, Bruce is not himself," Horn said. "It's not injured, but it's nagging. He obviously doesn't have the explosiveness that makes him special."
Points have been hard to come by for everyone, and not just Ellington. In losing seven of eight, the Gamecocks have averaged 61 points a game.
"The reality is we've got a couple of guys we thought we would be getting a little bit more from that we're not getting those things from," Horn said. "That's made some basketball things a little bit more challenging for us, especially on the offensive end."
Their lone victory in that stretch was at Louisiana State -- a 64-56 win that came against a team with the only losing streak in the SEC longer than their own. LSU has lost 10 consecutive games.