USC trying to get back on track

Just when it appeared South Carolina was positioning itself to become the surprise team of the Southeastern Conference, it hit a wall. Following back-to-back lopsided home losses to Kentucky and Auburn, the Gamecocks were looking more like what was projected for them prior to the season -- the worst team in the Eastern Division.

After returning from its first league road trip with a 2-1 league mark and three consecutive home games ahead of it, USC appeared poised to make a legitimate run at one of the top spots in its division. Following a win over Arkansas, the Gamecocks were cruising. But losses to Kentucky and Auburn had them sitting at 12-7 overall and 3-3 in conference play through Jan. 29 with back-to-back road games against LSU and Vanderbilt on the horizon.

In dropping a 79-64 decision to Auburn, Carolina became the Tigers' first league victim. The Gamecocks continued a disturbing trend in poor shooting; they connected on a putrid 34.3 percent of their field goals and 21.2 percent of their 33 3-point attempts.

One of the top rebounding teams in the league, USC even lost that battle to the Tigers 47-35.

"We've said from day one there would be some games that felt like year one and I thought it looked like it today," said USC coach Darrin Horn. "It looked like a young team that somehow thought we had done something and thought it was an easy game.

"We did not get the presence from some guys who are important to us ... a team getting around 56 points gets 79 (against USC)."

If the Gamecocks are to hold on to any hopes of playing in the postseason they must defeat an LSU team that is having its own struggles because topping Vanderbilt, in Nashville on Feb. 5 after already upsetting the Commodores in Columbia earlier in the season, would appear to be a steep challenge.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Since the start of its SEC season, South Carolina has struggled to make baskets. In its first six league games the Gamecocks connected on just 37.6 percent of its field goals and 28.6 percent of its 3-point attempts. Probably most disappointing was freshman shooting guard Brian Richardson. Recruited mostly for his ability to hit the long range jumper, he has made only five of 22, 3-point shots in league play for 23.7 percent.

--South Carolina has survived its lack of shooting by being dominant on the boards. That was not the case again Auburn. The Gamecocks were outrebounded 47-35 in the game, its biggest deficit of the season. Its 13 offensive rebounds was also a low for USC in conference action. The Gamecocks entered the contest averaging a league best 16.4 offensive boards.

--Junior forward Malik Cooke was whistled for a technical foul against Auburn. It marked the second consecutive game in which a Gamecock player has been assessed a technical. Freshman guard Bruce Ellington received on against Kentucky.

--South Carolina ranks as one of the youngest teams in the nation in terms of experience. It entered the 2010 season with 12 eligible players, but only nine combined seasons of Division I basketball experience. Only one player, senior forward Sam Muldrow, had played for coach Darrin Horn for more than one season. The team features three freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup.

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- The number of blocked shots senior center Sam Muldrow needed to surpass former Gamecock Brandon Wallace as the program's all-time leader entering the week. The career mark is 249. Muldrow had 239, with 67 coming this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The energy level was just not where it was supposed to be today. Coach emphasized it in practice and we did not perform today." -- USC sophomore guard Ramon Galloway, who led USC in scoring with 20 points on the team's performance against Auburn.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

GAME PREVIEW:

--at LSU, Feb. 2

KEY MATCHUPS: Senior forward Johndre Jefferson received playing time for the first time in six games against Auburn. Although he did not score or get a rebound, he blocked five shots in eight second half minutes. Although coach Darrin Horn has given his playing time to freshmen, he may be forced to again utilize the 6-9 forward.

--at Vanderbilt, Feb. 5

KEY MATCHUPS: The Gamecocks opened the SEC season with a come-from-behind 83-75 home victory over Vanderbilt. Freshman point guard Bruce Ellington and senior forward Sam Muldrow paced the team. Ellington has 22 points seven rebounds and four assists, while Muldrow had 16 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks.

FUTURES MARKET: Freshman PG Bruce Ellington struggled in the Gamecocks last three games through Jan. 29. After leading the team in scoring against Vanderbilt and Florida with 22 and 23 points respectively, he managed only 26 in the next three games.

PLAYER NOTES

--Sophomore G Lakeem Jackson missed the Auburn game with an injured foot. He was replaced in the starting lineup by sophomore Ramon Galloway. He is expected to return to the lineup for the Feb. 2 road game against LSU.

--Sophomore guard Ramon Galloway, who has served as USC's sixth man, received his first start against Auburn, taking the spot of injured performer Lakeem Jackson. He finished the game with a team-high 20 points, marking the second time in the Gamecocks' last three games he tallied that number.

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