Diminutive Dandies

When South Carolina (14-10, 5-5) visits SEC West leader Arkansas (13-12, 6-4) Wednesday night at 8 p.m., fans at Bud Walton Arena will be treated to a pair of top-notch and diminutive point guards in Devan Downey and Courtney Fortson.

There will be eight other guys on the court with South Carolina redshirt senior Devan Downey and University of Arkansas sophomore Courtney Fortson tonight at Bud Walton Arena.

But a lot of the eyeballs in the place will be fixated on those two point guards as the Gamecocks (14-10, 5-5) meet the SEC Western Division-leading Razorbacks (13-12, 6-4) in an 8 p.m. contest.

"I think it is going to be a game that is entertaining for the fans," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey. "It is going to be an up-and-down affair, it's not going to one where the ball is held onto…It should be two very aggressive basketball teams."

Downey was averaging nearly 30 points per game at one point in SEC and is currently averaging a league-best 22.8 points, 3.5 assists and 2.9 steals – which leads the league and is third in the country.

"Devin Downey is arguably the best basketball player in our league and I don't think you will get too much of an argument about that," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "Certainly I think he is one of the best players in the country as well.

"He can raise the level of his whole team," Pelphrey added. "He has a chance to impact games in a lot of different ways – scoring, free throws, shooting with range, getting opponents in foul trouble, defensivey is one of the all-time greats in terms of numbers of steals. He is just a special player."

Fortson missed the first 14 games this season, but was the major sparkplug as his team got on a five-game winning streak to move into first place in the SEC West.

He is averaging 19.7 points per game and 5.2 assists for Arkansas, who took back over the Western Division lead when Kentucky beat Mississippi State on Tuesday night.

"I think Fortson is terrific," South Carolina head coach Darin Horn said. "He is one of those rare guys that can really impact a game on both ends of the floor. He steals the basketball, creates tempo and can score the basketball as well. There is no question that he is a big part of what they do."

While they are different players, Pelphrey sees some similarities as well.

"If you look at the numbers, Devan, because of some of the guys they lost earlier in the year, he probably shoots the ball more," Pelphrey said. "The numbers are a little different but they're very, very similar. Two very aggressive basketball players. Two guys that are capable of being playmakers on defense. He may steal it a little bit more and Courtney may rebound it a little bit more. But they're very similar."

While he has had an outstanding season Downey – who has topped 30 points five times in league play – is just 18 of his last 60 from the floor.

Horn says Downey just set the bar too high.

"I think a better way to look at it is who was on a tear like that in America like Downey was for a stretch," Horn said. "I don't think it was one particular thing. He has been seeing different kinds of defenses. I think the shots just weren't falling. He got some great looks on Saturday where during that stretch he was making all of those. They just didn't go in.

"I don't have any concerns about that at all because he is a great competitor and really wants to win," Horn added. "He is going to come out of that."

How to defense Downey?

"Obviously our challenge from the defensive side of things will be to keep as many people in front of Devan and hope we can do it without fouling," Pelphrey said.

South Carolina will press in an effort to fatigue Fortson and his teammates.

"They are going to apply a lot of pressure and cause you to constantly make plays," Pelphrey said. "Catching, handling and passing will be important in this game. Finishing around the basket will be important."

The Razorbacks, whose winning streak ended at Alabama on Saturday, gets South Carolina at home and then hit the road at Auburn on Saturday.

"Certainly it is a big game and a big week," Pelphrey said.

Horn lavished praise on Arkansas on Tuesday.

"Maybe when you take the last five or six games, they are playing as well as anybody in our league," Horn said. "I think in a lot of ways our teams are similar – great point guards, solid perimeter shooting from a couple of individuals and inside guys – maybe no one guy in particular stands out, maybe (Michael) Washington for them and (Sam) Muldrow for us. They are some athletic guys that just contribute in a variety of ways and we are teams trying to find ways to win doing some different things."

South Carolina got up on Georgia by 10 on Saturday before ending up falling 66-61.

"When you are building a program, that is always the challenge," Horn said. "That is always the last step that gets taken – young people understanding that we have got to take care of what we can take care of and that is how hard we play and taking care of the little things. That didn't happen Saturday."

He noted that had been happening with Arkansas.

"In some of those games, they have have just found a way," Horn said. "They have been down big and came back and I think they have made the plays they've needed to make. Obviously Fortson is a big part of that, but I think across the board they have done what they needed to do to win games.

"Ultimately, that is what it comes down to because when you go on the road and give yourself a chance to win, you have got to make some plays," Horn added. "Our game Saturday was a big example of that."


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