Brutal schedule finally lets up

The good news for the University of South Carolina is the most brutal stretch in its schedule is complete -- five Southeastern Conference games in which four were played on the road and the lone home encounter was against No. 1 Kentucky.

The bad news is, the Gamecocks dropped all five encounters, leaving them with a 9-15 overall record and mired in last place in league play with a 1-9 mark. With the exception of the Kentucky game, USC has been competitive in each game, but has lost due to one or two opponent spurts in which it was dug a hole too big to overcome.

That was the case in Saturday's 76-65 loss to Arkansas in which the Gamecocks rallied late making a 14-0 run but running out of steam before making it back.

"It was simple really," said USC coach Darrin Horn. "We had a stretch at the end of the half where we did not take care of the ball. The problem when you play Arkansas with the way they play -- we coached a style similar to this before -- is not that they can turn you over, but their turnovers lead to baskets.

"We told our guys coming into the game, not just turning the ball over but turnovers that lead to easy baskets for them. We had seen Michigan. We had seen Auburn. We had seen some teams that may or may not turn the ball over but it didn't lead to easy baskets. I wanted them to have that goal. We did for the first 16 minutes of the half and then we had that stretch where it was five straight turnovers and I believe everyone led to a basket."

The team hopes to turn the tide this week with home games against Georgia on Wednesday and LSU on Saturday.

Among the issues?

Against Arkansas, the Gamecocks turned over the basketball 21 times, while dishing out only seven assists. Unlike USC when it managed to break the press, the Razorbacks attacked the basket and scored when it forced turnovers.

Carolina also continued to have problems scoring connecting on just 23 of 55 field goals and five of 20 3-point attempts. It has been a season-long problem for the squad.

The lone good news was the play of center Damontre Harris and forward Malik Cooke. Harris scored 12 points, pulled down seven rebounds and had a block, while Cooke scored 11, pulled down eight boards and blocked two shots.


--One alarming fact for both the Gamecocks and their fans has to be the team's recent history during the second half of league play. During coach Darrin Horn's tenure the Gamecocks have closed out seasons winning just five of their final 28. USC has not claimed an SEC Tournament victory under Horn's guidance.

That has led to fans staying away from games in droves as USC has seen two opponents -- Ohio State and Kentucky out-draw it in its home arena.

"We all want the same thing," said Horn. "I know (the fans) are upset when the record is not what people want it to be. There is frustration. Maybe there is that perception that we're not frustrated or we don't want it as bad as they do. Nothing could be further from the truth."

--After posting a 10-6 SEC record in his initial season, USC coach Darrin Horn has fallen on hard times as the Gamecocks own a 12-29 mark in league games since them.

The bad streak is beginning to takes its toll as not only are fans staying away from games in droves, it has affected recruiting as two highly regarded committed high school players did not sign with the team during the early signing period and later recanted the commitment.

The pickings are slim for available players in the 2012 cycle which could mean trouble for the Gamecocks who need help everywhere, especially at point guard. If starter Bruce Ellington, who played wide receiver on the football team, opts to play that sport only the team could be left without a capable performer at the position.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1/3 -- Following a rugged stint in which it had to play four of five games on the road, the schedule is kind to the Gamecocks the rest of the way as four of its final six games will be played in the Colonial Life Arena. USC has had its troubles there, however, winning just one of three conference games. The good news is it dropped all three games against nationally ranked Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt. The team now gets the opportunity to compete against teams it has a better opportunity to defeat, starting with Georgia and LSU this week.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're going to continue to work, continue to build and try to do positive things here down the stretch of the last (six) games which historically South Carolina has not been very good at. That is something we can try to focus on and make a positive out of." -- Darrin Horn on his team's approach to the games left in the regular season.



--vs. Georgia, Feb. 15
KEY MATCHUPS: Georgia swept the series for the first time in four seasons a year ago as the Bulldogs used their inside strength and quickness at guard to secure the victories. Georgia has not been as impressive this season, but is coming on strong of late. That has changed this season as the Bulldogs are led by freshman G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and redshirt senior G Gerald Robinson.

The Bulldogs also enter on a hot streak with back-to-back wins against Arkansas and Mississippi State.

--vs. LSU, Feb. 18
KEY MATCHUPS: USC C Damontre Harris will have his hands full as LSU's 7-0, 260-pound junior C Andrew Del Piero led the team in scoring and rebounding, entering the week. If that isn't enough to deal with, he was coming off a big game in a win over Alabama. The Tigers pose a threat in the backcourt as well as Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer have been leading the way there.

FUTURES MARKET: The season got off to a slow start for sophomore center Damontre Harris as an injured ankle forced him to miss most of the preseason. He has come on strong in the second half of the season, however, not only scoring in double figures in most games, but leading the Gamecocks in rebounds and blocks. The 6-9 athlete has become one of the top shot-blockers in the Southeastern Conference.


--Freshman F Anthony Gill positioned himself as one of the team's top players from the beginning of the season. The hard-nosed 6-8, 235-pound performer has fallen on hard times in recent games. He has scored only three points, while pulling down eight rebounds in losses to Tennessee and Arkansas last week.

--Sophomore G Brenton Williams, like most USC players this season, has been inconstant. He has given the Gamecocks solid efforts off the bench in their last two games against Tennessee and Arkansas. He scored 11 points against Tennessee and eight against Arkansas.

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