Valentines' Day Vandy Game Set For Carolina

This is a grudge match of sorts as the University of South Carolina Gamecocks try to get back to their winning ways and pick up win number twenty in the process. But Vanderbilt will come to town with revenge on their minds ...

No. 25 South Carolina, 19-5 and 6-4 in the SEC, hosts Vanderbilt on today, on Valentine's Day, Saturday, Feb. 14 with a 7:37 pm tip. USC won the earlier contest between the two teams in Nashville 57-55 on a Kerbrell Brown tip-in with less than two seconds on the clock.

Vandy, 15-5 and 4-5 in the SEC, defeated Georgia 61-39 on Wednesday, while the Gamecocks dropped a disappointing overtime game to No. 6 Mississippi State, 79-75.

The Commodores, led by SEC Player of the Year candidate Matt Freije, are coached by fifth-year head coach Kevin Stallings. VU was 11-18 last year with a 3-13 SEC record. They return four starters and 10 letterwinners.

Carolina vs. Vandy

USC leads the series against Vandy, 17-15, and has won 12 of the last 15 games between the two schools. USC has not lost in Nashville to Vanderbilt since the 1998-99 season when the Commodores won 77-66.

The Gamecocks escaped Vanderbilt with a 57-55 win earlier this season. The win gave Carolina their fourth straight against the Commodores and now have won seven of their last eight. In Columbia, USC holds a 9-5 edge. Vanderbilt took a 60-51 game during the 2001-02 season and 61-60 game during the 1999-2000 campaign. Since the 1998-99 season, Vanderbilt has came into Columbia and won every other year. South Carolina won in 1998-99, 2000-01, 2002-03 while Vanderbilt won 1999-2000, 2001-02.

Coach Speak

USC Head Coach Dave Odom and Vanderbilt Head Coach Kevin Stallings both spoke to the media via the SEC tele-conference on Thursday.

"Vanderbilt is coming of a really big win last night at home," said Odom. "It was a game they needed to win badly and they took care of their business. I watched the tape this morning and they were very impressive. It was a very disappointing game for us Wednesday night. A great win like that, to fall apart like that at the end and not get it really hurts. Mississippi State is a very balanced team and they have the best inside-outside game around. They are a thinking man's team. They are smart and are tough to defend. Brandon Vincent is the key to that team."

"We had a good game against Georgia," said Stallings. "We have struggled against South Carolina lately. They've had our number. They have a tough environment to play in over there. We will have to play well. They had a tough loss versus Mississippi State Wednesday. The fireworks from the last time we played are over. Our team realizes there is no place for that sort of thing in college basketball. We will just have to go in there and play hard."

One Month and counting

USC remained in the nation's top 25 this week for the fourth straight week. USC is No. 25 in the Associated Press poll, after peaking at No. 24 two weeks ago. USC jumped up to No. 22 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll - a season high.

As of Friday, Feb. 13, USC is ranked No. 20 in the Sagarin ratings with its SOS ranking at 142 -a season high. On collegerpi.com, USC is ranked No. 41 with a SOS of 103 - both season highs. On Sportsline.com, USC's RPI is No. 41 and its strength of schedule is rated at 148 - both season highs

Our Newcomer of the Year

While Lawrence Roberts is wooing folks on the Western Division side of the SEC, the Eastern Division side has been getting to know Carolina junior Josh Gonner, who came to USC this year from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.

He has scored in double figures every SEC game. In SEC games, Gonner is averaging 15.6 points a game. In addition he has scored more than 20 points or more three times against SEC foes: vs. Tennessee (a career high 24 points), Ole MIss (20 points) and Alabama (22 points). In his short career at Carolina, he has scored in double figures 15 times in 22 games.

Against Ole Miss the junior had his second straight game with career-high five steals. He is currently second on the team in steals with 33 and second in ppg with 12.0. He also said hello to the ACC with 13 points in the 76-61 win at Clemson and then dropped 19 points in the 58-55 home win over N.C. State.

Middle Men

The Gamecocks have 143 blocks in 24 games while they had 92 last season in 28 games. The Gamecocks are averaging six blocks a game with six regular season games remaining (including Vanderbilt). Right now the six blocks per game is the highest total for USC since averaging seven a game during the 1972-73 season. The 72-73 team recorded 203 blocks in 29 games, the most by any Carolina squad. The next two are 176 in 1972 (6.1 per game/2nd), and 167 in 1991.

In the overtime loss to No. 6 Mississippi State Rolando Howell had a career high four blocks and Renaldo Balkman had a career-high five blocks. USC had 10 blocks in that game to MSU's one.

Leading the team in blocks is Balkman with 34. In second is freshman Brandon Wallace with 29. Tony Kitchings led the team last year with 27 while Howell was second with 19.

OT ... again

The game against Mississippi State marked USC's third overtime game this season. The Gamecocks had a five game losing streak in overtimes but broke the streak at Auburn. USC defeated Auburn on the road (53-51, 1/14/04) and Alabama at home (90-82, 2/4/04). The 75-79 loss in overtime to No. 6 Mississippi State snapped USC's 2-0 OT streak in the SEC. The OT win against Alabama was USC's first ever overtime win in the Colonial Center.

The three overtimes this season is the most since 1993-94. The three OT games ties the 93-94, and 58-59 season for the most overtime games that USC has ever had in a season.

Home Sweet Home

The Gamecocks are 12-2 at home this season and continuing their strong performance in the Colonial Center having a 23-6 record their overall. Since the 1991-92 season, USC has had two losing seasons at home. The best home records coming into this season are 13-1 (1997-98), 16-2 (1995-96), 11-3 (1996-97) and 11-4 (2002-03).

Our crowd

The Gamecocks have played five home SEC games so far and have a record of 3-2. All five games have seen a packed crowd in the Colonial Center as 15,042 or more have packed the Center in those five games. (15,042 vs. Florida; 17,806 vs. Tennessee; 17,927 vs. LSU; and 16,227 vs. Alabama; 17,792 vs. MSU). The LSU crowd of 17,927 was the largest crowd to ever see a basketball game in the state of South Carolina and the first pre-game day sell out.

Let's hope the first impression lasts

The Gamecocks are 21-5 against teams visiting the Colonial Center for the first time. USC is 6-5 against SEC opponents coming to the Colonial Center for the first time.

Watch out

Carlos Powell is nearing the 1,000 point club. Powell has scored 912 points in his career so far and is only 88 points away with six regular season games remaining. Powell would need to average 14.7 points a game to achieve the milestone at the Tennessee game. Carlos is averaging 13.6 points a game, which leads the team and has scored in double figures in every game this season.

Rolando Howell is also nearing the mark as he has scored 921 points in his career. And finally, Mike Boynton, Jr. needs to play in two more games and he will be in USC's all-time top 10 for games played with 117. He is also inching up the list for career steals with 106.

Player Career Category Player Stat Record or place of reachable record

Mike Boynton, Jr. Games Played 115 123/1st (117/10th)

Mike Boynton, Jr. Steals 106 112/10th

Rolando Howell Blocks 68 76/10th

Rolando Howell Points 921 1000/41st

Carlos Powell Points 912 1000/41st

Carolina Men's Basketball Game is Sold Out

Three of the last four home games for USC have been sold out

Tonight's South Carolina-Vanderbilt State men's basketball game at the Colonial Center was declared a sellout at 5 p.m. Friday. That marks the third time in the past four home games that all tickets have been sold prior to tipoff. However, there are 150 student tickets still available. Students should come pick up tickets at 10 a.m. at the Colonial Center box office and must present a valid USC student ID.

The Gamecocks are 19-5 on the season, 6-4 in the SEC and ranked #25 in the country. Vanderbilt is 15-5 overall and 4-5 in conference play. Start time at the Colonial Center is 7:37 p.m. The game is not televised.

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