Struggles continue

Just when it appeared things might be getting better for South Carolina, the road and outstanding teams struck. After claiming their first Southeastern Conference win against Alabama at home, the Gamecocks dropped competitive road games to Mississippi and Florida, then came home only to get blasted by nationally No. 1 ranked Kentucky.

The Gamecocks were disappointed with the losses to Mississippi and Florida but came home feeling they had a chance to be competitive against a Kentucky team that defeated them by 15 in Lexington earlier in the season.

That was not the case, however, as the Wildcats gave USC one of its worst beatings in years, trouncing the Gamecocks 86-52. Kentucky took control of the game early, giving Carolina virtually no chance to get into the contest.

"They played outstanding," USC coach Darrin Horn said of Kentucky. "They looked like the No. 1 team in the country. We didn't play well. They started with dribble penetration that we gave up in the first half and it allowed them to get the lead."

The losses dropped USC to 9-13 overall and 1-7 in league play. Things aren't getting any easier, however. With road games against Tennessee (Wednesday) and Arkansas (Saturday) up next, six of the Gamecocks' first 10 SEC games will have been on the road.

The main thing that has plagued the Gamecocks throughout the season has been their inability to score. The team connected on a measly 18-of-59 shots against Kentucky for 30.5 percent. The one positive against the Wildcats was USC's accuracy from 3-point range, where it made nine of 20.

The Gamecocks were also outrebounded by 11, although much of that had to do with the limited time played by sophomore power forward Damontre Harris, who logged only 27 minutes due to foul difficulties. Opponents appear to have figured out the squad's zone defense as recent foes have managed to get a plethora of open shots.

Included in Kentucky's 51.6 percent field-goal percentage were several uncontested dunks.

It appears to be time to either tweak the attack or change it altogether.

NOTES, QUOTES

Inconsistent Leonard leads USC vs. Kentucky

--The up-and-down season for freshman Damien Leonard continues. After scoring only two points against Mississippi and getting shut out against Florida the Greenville, S.C., native was the Gamecocks' most potent weapon against Kentucky, leading the Gamecocks in scoring with 19 points. Known as a long-range specialist in high school, the 6-4 performer was good on 4-of-8 3-point attempts in the contest. "I really haven't done anything differently in practice," said Leonard. "I'm just working on the same things, trying to improve."

--Sophomore forward Damontre Harris struggled against Kentucky due to foul trouble. Prior to that, however, he had been Carolina's most consistent performer. He entered the contest having scored 33 points, pulling down 14 rebounds and blocking 11 shots in the three previous encounters. He is quickly becoming one of the SEC's top shot blockers. USC's defense is much less effective when he is out of the game.

--As USC coach Darrin Horn has pared his rotation down, three players who are used to getting big minutes have found themselves spending the majority of games on the bench. Junior Lakeem Jackson, a two-year starter who opened the 2011-12 season as the starting point guard while Bruce Ellington was playing football, is getting little time due to his inability to score offensively. Sophomore guard Brian Richardson has also received little time after starting two games this season. He did not play against Alabama or Mississippi. After spending the last three games on the bench, sophomore point guard Eric Smith scored two points and dished out two assists in 12 minutes against Kentucky.

BY THE NUMBERS: 31 -- USC freshman Anthony Gill continues to impress. He has scored in double figures in each of the team's last three games, tallying 31 during that period. He has also been solid on the boards during that period.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are not a very explosive team and we dug ourselves a big hole." -- USC coach Darrin Horn, on his team's performance against Kentucky.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES

--at Tennessee, Feb 8
KEY MATCHUPS: South Carolina will attempt to break a nine-game road losing streak against Southeastern Conference opponents when it travels to Knoxville. It marks the Gamecocks' first match against the Vols since Cuonzo Martin took over as Tennessee's coach. Carolina has not won a game in Knoxville since the 2001-02 season.

--at Arkansas, Feb. 11
KEY MATCHUPS: Arkansas is strong where South Carolina is weak -- at guard. B.J, Young, Mardracus Wade, Rickey Scott and Julysses Nobles, all guards, are the Razorbacks' top four scorers. Gamecocks sophomore PG Bruce Ellington must rebound after one of his least productive games against Kentucky, when he scored only three points on 1-of-9 shooting.

FUTURES MARKET: While his numbers were not great against Kentucky, sophomore F R.J. Slawson is becoming more and more a part of the Gamecocks offense, serving as the team's sixth man. He has the ability to get rebounds and block shots inside on defense, while drilling 3-point shots on offense. The coaching staff depends on him to give the team a lift off the bench.

PLAYER NOTES:

--Senior F Malik Cooke is tied for third in the SEC in steals with 2.0 per game. He continues to lead the team in scoring with 12.4 points per game. He is the lone senior on the squad.

--Freshman G Damien Leonard has been at his best on the big stage. He scored 15 points against then-No. 1 ranked North Carolina in November and has accounted for 34 points in two games against Kentucky, with his career-high 19 coming against the No. 1 Wildcats on Saturday.

--Sophomore Brenton Williams has solidified his standing as the Gamecocks' No. 2 point guard behind starter Bruce Ellington. He has also been used, on occasion, as USC's shooting guard playing alongside Ellington. A solid shooter, he scored a season-high 15 points against Mississippi.

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