Dave Odom, "We are not backing up!"

Dave Odom was adamant, reflective and determined in his pre-Kentucky press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Colonial Center. This is a big game for several reasons. Five seniors will appear on their home court for the last time. The Gamecocks are still in a "mathematical hunt" for a bye in the SEC Tournament. And USC has something to prove in the face of adversity - they are not backing up ...

No one wanted to talk about the loss of Rolando Howell. It is over and done with, behind them. There is nothing more that can be said other than, "We must move on." And with that the Gamecocks set their minds to preparing for a key match-up against perennial national power Kentucky.

"They are one of the top two all-time finest programs in the country - you cannot argue that," said Coach Odom. "There is Kentucky and there is North Carolina. Most wins, most championships. That says it all ... and Duke, since 1992."

There will be no secret among the 18,000 or so fans set to pack the Colonial Center tonight as to Kentucky's plan of attack. They will attempt to go to their big people in the low post and force South Carolina into early foul trouble where their depth is now somewhat depleted.

Kentucky, normally one of the better perimeter teams in the league, finds themselves near last in three point shooting percentage during the 2003/04 campaign. Their troubles from beyond the arch should be compounded by the fact that South Carolina's defense, among other worthy and notable achievements, is the number one ranked perimeter defense in the SEC so far this season.

"Sure, they are going to come after us down low. We'll just have to wait and see how we handle it. But one thing I can tell you, we are not backing up," Dave Odom said followed by a long intense determined stare. "We've come too far to back up now. Our guys will handle it. I know they will. We're prepared."

"There are many reasons to play well. Kentucky, wherever they go they bring a certain atmosphere to the game just by their mere presence. There is no denying there will be a certain sentiment there for us to do well against Kentucky. They have been and continue to be the standard in this league for basketball. And they will continue to be until somebody changes it. It is a chance to do well against a team that many perceive to be the very best."

"Then when you add to that the motivation that we are still mathematically alive for a bye in the SEC Tournament - it's one that I hope our team sinks its teeth into to. We're not totally in control of that but we are at least somewhat in control. (Winning) Two games this week would help our cause immensely. And too, obviously our crowd will be here and they will be here early and they will help us as well, there is no doubt about that."

Coach Odom stressed the importance of getting the fans in the seats early for the sake of the USC seniors.

"My understanding is ... I would give anything in the world to have our crowd in place by twenty minutes to eight. Our Senior Day activities are going to start at 7:52 and it would be wonderful if we could have all of our fans in their seats, or standing by their seats, at that time to try to honor our people."

Tipoff is set for 8:07 PM and the game is being televised.

"I will start our seniors with Carlos Powell being the one lone senior starting," said Odom. "How long they play ... I don't know. It just depends on how the game goes. This is something I've always done and I feel very strongly about this. It is something that will be a meaningful experience to them for years to come."

Talk turned back to Kentucky.

"One of the next steps for our program is to look and think like we belong ... with the best in this league,." Coach Odom stressed. "Kentucky ... the way they carry themselves, the way they treat you - and I don't mean that in a bad way - they kick your butt. When you look at the top of the heap in college basketball you find the same two names. One's won the most games in the history of college basketball and the other one (UNC) is number two."

More strategy from Odom.

"I would expect Kentucky to try to offset our guard play, our quickness, with their size on the perimeter. They may go zone, but they will try to offset our guard quickness with their size."

"We're a better rebounding team than we were earlier in the season. Still, they are a team that has the ability to offensive rebound and still get back defensively. They almost dare you to run on them. But because they are pretty sure they are going to get a fair number of offensive rebounds - we've gotta do a much better job of blocking out. We have really put the burden of rebounding back on our perimeter." As an afterthought Odom added, "They crushed us on the boards up there in the last game, and still we almost won the game."

"The biggest thing we have to do is make some adjustments for our interior defense right now. The defensive rebounding and our defensive play inside .... those two things concern me more than anything else right now."

Then there is the problem of defending Kentucky in the low post. The Wildcats are going to be bringing it into the lane with the hope of forcing SC into early foul trouble - especially Carlos Powell and Kerbrell Brown.

"No question," replied Coach. "We're going to gear our defense up I can tell you that right now. We're not going to back off of them. I'll be very disappointed if our team backs up. We better go forward, and we better go forward with some energy because you can't back far enough up in that lane to keep them from scoring."

Odom's demeanor turned intense. His eyes narrowed, his face tightened. He removed his left index finger from his left cheek and placed both hands flat and firmly on the table in front of him as he continued.

"You better get'em on our turf, not theirs. It may not work, but we're not backing up. That's as clear as I can make it. We've come too far. We're not backing up. Let's get it going. Let's move forward. We've got to make our move now."

Kerbrell Brown and Carlos Powell echoed their coach's resolve.

"I know that since Ro is not around they are going to be looking for more out of me," began Brown. "I have to play with a better mind set and not pick up any ticky-tac fouls. Coach told me he is going to need me to be a better defensive player and step up offensively. Of course I'll be looking to take the three if Kentucky gives it to me but if I know Kentucky, they'll be looking to take that away. So I'm going to do what coach has asked of me and concentrate on being a more productive player down low where they need me the most."

Carlos Powell, the only non-senior starting Wednesday night, was clearly focused and intent.

"There's going to be a little bit of extra intensity against Kentucky, especially on Senior Day wanting to get a win for those guys, our seniors. I want to help them go out with a bang for their last home game. But as far as Kentucky coming at us down low - we know that going in. They believe they are going to get us in foul trouble - but we're just going to go out there and battle with them. If fouls come then fouls come but whatever we do we cannot punk-out. We have to go out there and play our game."

'Punking out' is the last thing Gamecock fans will see from this team. They are not backing down. Tonight's game will be a battle.

- Rooster Perry

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