Cliff Ellis will try to pull his team out of a two-game tailspin in a coaching matchup against his old friend and former ACC rival, Dave Odom, who has made the move south from Wake Forest to Columbia, S.C., where he replaced Eddie Fogler.
"We became friends when he was an assistant at Virginia (1983-89) and I was head coach at Clemson," Ellis says. "He got the Wake Forest job and I was chosen to go overseas and run some clinics for the Air Force and was asked to bring a coach along. I asked Dave to come and he brought his wife and I brought mine. We did clinics all over Europe. Our families became close friends."
Marquis Daniels returned to the starting lineup on Wednesday.
When the Tigers and Gamecocks meet on Saturday, there is no doubt which of the veteran coaches needs this victory the most. Auburn, a 11-13 overall and 3-10 in the SEC, is obviously getting ready for 2002-2003 with its youth movement. AU is playing for pride and a chance to have a winning overall record, but little else.
Odom and the Gamecocks have more immediate concerns with an NCAA Tournament bid still a possibility, however, there is little margin for error with USC at 16-10 overall and 6-7 in the SEC. That is what makes this a huge game for Carolina with the other two games on the road at nationally ranked Georgia and at home vs. a hot Mississippi State team.
The Gamecocks outscored LSU 66-53 on Wednesday in their last game. "We are extremely pleased with our victory over LSU," Odom says. "I think LSU was as well prepared for our game and our team as anyone we have played this season. At the end of the game, our players stepped up and made plays, plays that we have not been making in close conference games. It really makes me feel good about the direction our team has taken as of late. We now turn our attention to playing Auburn at Auburn and, in truth, they have played real well at home this season."
The Gamecocks are led by a pair of senior guards. Jamel Bradley, 6-2, 170, is averaging 13.8 points per game and 2.5 assists. Aaron Lucas, 5-11, 185, is averaging 10.5 points and 4.0 assists.
Marius Petravicius, a 6-10 junior from Lithuania, is averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds at center. The starting forwards, both six-foot-seven, are junior Chuck Eidson (9.2 points and 3.7 rebounds) and freshman Carlos Powell (5.8 points and 2.6 rebounds).
Odom has used six different starting lineups in the last 10 games as the Gamecocks have struggled to score in conference contests. Rolando Howell, a 6-9, 220 sophomore forward and center, is averaging 8.1 points and 5.6 rebounds and should see significant playing time off the bench. The same is true of Tony Kitchings, a 6-10, 260 center, who is averaging 5.6 points and 5.0 rebounds.
Although USC has struggled with its scoring, defense has kept the Gamecocks alive in their run for an NCAA Tournament berth. In the past four games in particular, the Gamecocks have been particularly stingy, allowing just 54 points to Tennessee, 52 to Alabama, 43 to Vanderbilt and 53 to LSU. The 43 vs. the Commodores was a 14-year low for Vanderbilt.
For the season, South Carolina opponents have averaged just 60.9 points per game, which is the best in 32 years for a USC squad.
Auburn leads the series 13-9 and is 6-3 all-time in games played in Auburn and 4-3 vs. the Gamecocks at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Auburn won last season in Columbia in a 60-57 game.
Junior Marquis Daniels, who returned to the starting lineup at Florida where the Tigers were pounded 89-61 on Wednesday, leads the Tigers in scoring at 11.5 points per game, narrowly ahead of junior guard Derrick Bird at 11.3. Those two are expected to be joined in the starting lineup by freshmen Marco Killingsworth (7.9 points, 3.9 rebounds), Dwayne Mitchell (3.3 points, 2.2 rebounds) and Lewis Monroe (2.2 points, 2.7 assists).
Freshman Dwayne Mitchell goes to the hoop.
There is no TV coverage of Auburn's next to last home game. The Tigers have three regular season games left with a Wednesday road trip to Alabama followed by the season finale at home three days later vs. LSU.