USC ready for Razorbacks in Tourney Opener
"The Arkansas team that we're getting ourselves ready to play on Thursday is not nearly the same team we played three or four weeks ago," USC coach Dave Odom said. "They were a team that was right there with Alabama and LSU at the beginning of the year. Started strong, got off to a shaky beginning in the SEC conference season but now have come back strong."
In light of three Gamecocks receiving mention on All-SEC teams, Odom will rely on his veteran leadership in Tre' Kelley and Brandon Wallace, as well as All-SEC Freshmen Dominique Archie, to lead USC. Surprisingly, Odom will also call on freshman Evka Banilius who has been a non-factor as of late due to rough practices.
"He's struggled like crazy on defense," Odom said. "Offensively we need his shot, we need his minutes to kind of rest everybody."
The Gamecocks find themselves in a situation very similar to last season. USC came into the tournament with a low level of expectation before rallying for three straight tournament wins and an appearance in the title game.
"Like we did last year, we're just going to go in and try to win," Wallace said. "That's the only thing you can control is your own destiny. We know that if we want to have a postseason we have to win games."
Odom knows that success deep into the conference tournament will get his team back into postseason talk, but is not trying to overbear his young team with what could be.
"What I've tried to do is make a concentrated effort to talk to them about a game and not the tournament," Odom said. "Let's win a game. And if we can do that, we begin to get a feel for what the tournament is all about and maybe talk a little bit more about the tournament."
Kelley, who has been named to both the coaches and AP first team All-SEC squads, has adopted his coach's philosophy for the duration of the tournament.
"I think we still have some fighting to do," Kelley said. "It starts Thursday. We're going to try and go as far as we can."
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