NOTEBOOK: Tough stretch continues

Just when it appeared South Carolina was poised to become a more consistent competitor in the Southeastern Conference, reality hit.

The Gamecocks managed a 56-54 home victory over a reeling Alabama team to earn their first league victory of the season. That allowed many to somewhat overlook the team's poor shooting as it connected on just 30 percent of its field goals.

The team's inability to make shots was again magnified in the squad's road loss to Mississippi as it made only 40 percent of its field goals. USC failed to get many free- throw attempts and was severely out-rebounded by the Rebels.

While the inability to competitively rebound with an opponent has not been a problem most of the season, the Gamecocks' shooting incompetence has.

"We understand the limitations we have had offensively early this season," said USC coach Darrin Horn. "We just have to keep working hard in practice on improving. That is one thing I can sway about this group is they have never stopped playing or practicing hard. Their attitude has been great."

USC continued to get solid leadership on and off the field from its lone senior, Malik Cooke, who pumped in 17 against Mississippi, and led the team in scoring at that point. Teams are also beginning to figure out Carolina's 2-3 zone that gave teams fits early in the season. Some other defensive attacks may have to be employed the rest of the way.

NOTES, QUOTES

Horn settling on rotation

--South Carolina coach Darrin Horn has played everyone on the team for most of the season, but has finally pared down the roster. Guards Eric Smith and Brian Richardson, who have started several games this season, have not played in the last two games. Junior swingman Lakeem Jackson has also received little time after starting for two seasons.

--Sophomore G Brenton Williams appeared destined for a life on the bench after a sprained knee kept him out of action for several encounters early in the season. He has proven to be a savior for the team, however, as his play in recent games has allowed him to not only re-gain minutes but give the Gamecocks something it has needed -- a guard who can give the team something offensively while spelling starting point guard Bruce Ellington.

Williams scored 15 points in USC's most recent game against Mississippi. He is best suited to be on the floor with Ellington, whose play at the point normally ends in open shots for him on the wing.

--Freshman F Anthony Gill has not put up huge numbers this season, but has improved every game and appears to have a bright future. Against Mississippi he matched up against junior PF Murphy Holloway, who practiced with the team throughout the 2010-11 season and held his own. Gill can score from both the outside and inside, while also being able to put the basketball and the floor and drive to the basket. He is also a fighter on the boards, pulling down nine rebounds against Alabama.

BY THE NUMBERS: 22/10 -- South Carolina has been very successful when earning 10 or more steals against an opponent under coach Darrin Horn. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, they have reached that number only twice this season -- against Western Carolina and South Carolina State.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I realize we have been bad a lot this season. But the one thing I can say about this team is they have played and practiced hard all season. That is one thing I have been very proud of." -- USC coach Darrin Horn on his basketball team.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--at Florida, Feb 2
KEY MATCHUPS: The Gamecocks could not keep up with Florida in a 79-65 loss to Florida in Columbia on Jan. 14. The Gators connected on 25 of 47 field goals, including 12 of 24 3-pointers.There was a positive for USC, however, as point Bruce Ellington not only held his own against Kenny Boynton, scoring 17 points, dishing out three assists and being called for only one turnover.

--vs. Kentucky, Feb 4
KEY MATCHUPS: Kentucky claimed a 79-64 win over USC on Jan. 7 in Lexington. The Wildcats managed the victory by making 58.3 percent of their field goals, including five of 11 from 3-point range. Although the Gamecocks out-rebounded the Wildcats by three and had three fewer turnovers, Kentucky limited them to making 38.1 percent of their field goals.

FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore F R. J. Slawson has become a valuable member of the USC basketball team, managing to give the team a lift both offensively and on the boards as the Gamecocks sixth man. He is averaging 5.5 points and 4.4 rebounds in 19.2 minutes. The former South Carolina Mr. Basketball during his senior season in high school has played his best against the better teams on USC's schedule.

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