NOTEBOOK: More of the same

The more things change the more they stay the same for the University of South Carolina. A 59-48 road loss to Vanderbilt on Feb. 22, followed by a 73-64 home defeat Feb. 25 against Tennessee continued the downward spiral of the squad which watched its overall record slide to 10-18, while it owns a Southeastern Conference worst 2-12 mark.

The Gamecocks lost both games in similar fashion as they played well for the first 20 minutes only to have the bottom fall out in the second half. Particularly against Tennessee, South Carolina often played solid defense for the initial 28 seconds of possessions only to give up an easy shot with the clock running out.

The Gamecocks continued to struggle on offense, which has been a season long problem. The team often stands around as point guard Bruce Ellington dribbles looking for an open player. Due to the stagnation, he is often left to make something happen when the clock runs down.

Among the Issues?

Sophomore center Damontre Harris, who has played well for much of the second half of the season, took a step back against Tennessee. He drew two fouls in the first 1:49 of the contest, putting put his team in dire straits. He finished without scoring a point. He pulled down only one rebound and had one turnover in 11 minutes.

While redshirt freshman Carlton Geathers did his best, USC suffers when Harris is not on the floor. He is Carolina's only intimidating defensive presence inside. At his best, he is one of the top shot blockers in the SEC. South Carolina, which has attempted to pressure more recently, desperately needs him as its second line of defense.

With only two games remaining in the regular season, the best the Gamecocks can hope for is a tie for the worst record in the league entering the SEC Tournament. Even that appears to be a stretch as they are two games behind the next worst record. With a home game against a talented Mississippi State squad on Feb. 29, followed by a trip to Athens, Ga., on March 3 to challenge the Georgia Bulldogs, that appears unlikely.

NOTES, QUOTES

--South Carolina continues to struggle at shooting guard. It appeared freshman Damien Leonard was getting a handle on the position after scoring 10 points on the road against Vanderbilt on Feb. 22. Consistency continues to be a problem, however, as he scored only two against Tennessee on Feb. 25 on one of five shooting. Coach Darrin Horn gave sophomore Brian Richardson a shot, but he was scoreless, missing two shots. The Gamecocks' best offensive attack appears to come when reserve point guard Brenton Williams enters the game. He made three of four 3-pointers and scored 11 points against Tennessee. He also had three steals.

--With a season average of .407 percent field goals shooting, which includes .323 from 3-point range, putting the ball in the basket has been a season-long chore for the Gamecocks. Only one player on the team, sophomore center Damontre Harris (.541), is shooting better than 50 percent entering the week. The top 3-point percentage is owned by seldom used point guard Eric Smith (.417). At this late date it doesn't appear an answer to the problem will be found.

"We got 22 more shots than they did. I don't know what the number is, I will have to go back and look at the film, but it was well into double digits of not really tough finishes, just shots that when you get to the rim you have got to make them," USC coach Darrin Horn said of his team's trouble scoring against Tennessee.

--Sporting a 10-18 overall record, South Carolina has put itself in position to become only the fourth team in school history to lose 20 games in a season. The team has a home game against Mississippi State and road encounter against Georgia remaining during the regular season. Coach Darrin Horn owns a 60-60 overall record at the school and is 23-39 in league games. Despite the squad's struggles there appears to be a good chance he will return next season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 17/10 -- Surrounded by sub-par play, the one consistent performer for South Carolina has been the team's lone senior, forward Malik Cooke. The team's leading scorer, Cooke had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Gamecocks' Feb. 25 game against Tennessee. It was his second double/double of the season. He recently topped the 1,000-point plateau.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We never really got over the hump. Every time we seemed like we were chipping away and getting close, it seemed like they hit a timely shot or got something at the end of the break." -- USC coach Darrin Horn on his team's inability to make shots in a 73-64 home loss to Tennessee on Feb. 25.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--vs. Mississippi State, Feb, 29
KEY MATCHUPS: Bulldogs forward Sidney Renaldo proved a tough person for South Carolina to guard last season, scoring 13 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. He should be an even tougher foe for the Gamecocks to match up against this season now that former center Sam Muldrow has graduated. Conversely, the Gamecocks held standout point guard Dee Bost to eight points in 31 minutes, while then freshman USC point guard Bruce Ellington has 15 points.

--at Georgia, March 3
KEY MATCHUPS: When USC notched a 57-56 win over the Bulldogs on Feb. 15, center Damontre Harris was a disruptive force, blocking five Georgia shots. UGA forwards Marcus Thornton and Donte Williams were held to a combined 14 points and 12 rebounds. To have any chance of repeating the victory, this time away from home, the Gamecocks will need the same type of performance from their sophomore center, who has been up and down this season.

PLAYER NOTES --Senior F Malik Cooke, the only senior on the team, will be honored prior to the Gamecocks final home game on Feb. 29 against Mississippi State. The 6-6 forward has been the lone consistent performer on the team. Through Feb. 25, he led the team in scoring at 12 points per game and has chipped in five rebounds per game. He has proven to be the team's go-to guy, along with sophomore point guard Bruce Ellington. He has topped the 1,000 point career scoring mark with more than 600 of the points coming after he transferred to USC from Nevada.

--Redshirt sophomore center Carlton Geathers was forced to play his most minutes of the season against Tennessee on Feb. 25 when starter Damontre Harris suffered his second foul with 18:11 remaining in the first half. Considered at least a year away from consistently being able to help the Gamecocks, he acquitted himself well. Although he scored only one point in 21 minutes of action, he pulled down three rebounds, blocked a shot and had a steal.

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