Horn: Gamecocks didn't compete

The season remains on the skids for South Carolina. Following a 90-59 road loss to Kentucky in a Feb. 19 game in which South Carolina was never in contention, the Gamecocks had dropped five straight Southeastern Conference encounters and seven of their last eight.

After getting off to a promising start in league play, South Carolina appeared destined to finished last in the Eastern Division. The team continued to struggle to find ways to score. It connected on just 22 of 64 field goals against Kentucky (34.4 percent) and was six of 23 (26.1 percent) from 3-point range.

Struggling most was freshman point guard Bruce Ellington, the team's leading scorer whose field-goal percentage continued to dip. Settling mostly for long range shots rather than driving to the basket as he did early in the season, he made only one of 11 field goals, including one of nine from 3-point range, in scoring seven points against the Wildcats.

Taking a page from Ellington's lead, the Gamecocks were also struggling to get high-percentage shots, as opponents were employing zone defenses almost exclusively. The poor shooting had also eliminated the rebounding edge USC had during the first half of the conference season, as it lost that battle Feb. 19 for the fourth straight game.

"I am incredibly disappointed in our team because we did not compete," coach Darrin Horn said after the Kentucky game. "With all the challenges that we had, we were going to play hard and compete; I think we've done that. Tonight, that didn't happen. There is really no excuse for that."

With only four regular-season SEC games remaining, about the only thing left for South Carolina was to attempt to right the ship prior to the league tournament. The lone bright spot had been the play of junior Malik Cooke, who led South Carolina in both scoring and rebounding with 12 points and eight boards against Kentucky.


--Although hard to comprehend, there was a time when South Carolina was 4-3 in the Southeastern Conference, a record that included a home victory against Vanderbilt and a road win over Florida. Now, the Gamecocks are 13-12 overall, 4-8 in league play. There had been a common theme during the team's five-game losing streak, an inability to get easy shots, as it had failed to shoot above 40 percent from the field in any of the games.

Coach Darrin Horn had praised his team's willingness to compete during the skid. That wasn't the case following the 31-point loss to Kentucky on Feb. 19.

"We've got individuals that obviously, we count on in a big way," Horn said. "They didn't get anything done tonight."

--South Carolina has a quick turnaround as it hosts Mississippi on Feb. 22. The Rebels probably represent the Gamecocks' best opportunity for another league win. Following the lopsided loss to Kentucky, South Carolina must first find a way to regain its confidence.

"Whenever you lose by that much it's a hard loss," sophomore guard Ramon Galloway said. "We didn't compete hard enough as a team."

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Home games remaining for South Carolina. Although the team has done a solid job protecting its home turf during Darrin Horn's tenure, that has not been the case this season. The Gamecocks enter the Feb. 22 game against Mississippi with a 2-4 home league mark.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not tired. With my calf, it's a little hard to balance, but I don't think there's nothing wrong with my shot. I've just got to go in the gym and keep working." -- Freshman PG Bruce Ellington, who was suffering from a bruised calf, after making just one of 11 field goals against Kentucky.



--vs. Mississippi, Feb. 22

KEY MATCHUPS: Junior F Malik Cooke hopes to continue to step in when the Gamecocks face the Rebels. Through Feb. 19, he had led the team in scoring in each of the last four games with a 17.3 average. He also was leading the squad in blocked shots during that span. He had moved from the bench to the starting lineup in the last two games.

--at Georgia, Feb. 26

KEY MATCHUPS: After scoring only nine first-half points against the Bulldogs in the teams' previous encounter this season, South Carolina rallied to pull within two despite trailing by 24 with 11 minutes remaining in the game. Although the Gamecocks lost by four, the defeat could give the squad confidence as it travels to Athens, Ga. If the Gamecocks are to be successful, they must find a way to combat Georgia's powerful inside game.

FUTURES MARKET: South Carolina is suffering growing pains this season, which is understandable, as it has five freshmen in its rotation along with a junior transfer playing in his first year with the squad. With senior F Sam Muldrow the only significant loss, there appear to be good times ahead. SG Damien Leonard and F Anthony Gill, both top 100 players, will join the team as freshmen next fall, along with talented junior F Murphy Holloway, a transfer from Mississippi. That should give the squad more depth next season.


--Sophomore G/F Lakeem Jackson had missed two games with an injured foot through Feb. 19, and he was expected to again be out of action when South Carolina plays host Mississippi on Feb. 22. His loss significantly hurts the Gamecocks' defense as he has the ability to defend smaller or larger performers. Although not a great shooter, he gives the squad a strong presence on the offensive boards and finds a way to drive the ball to the basket.

--Freshman PG Bruce Ellington swears his injured calf was not affecting his performance. The statistics of the Gamecocks' leading scorer tell a different story, however, as he had made only 18 of 79 field goals in South Carolina's last five games.

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