Gamecocks set for SEC-Big East Challenge

The Gamecocks travel to Philadelphia Thursday night to take on Providence in the inaugural SEC-Big East Challenge. South Carolina will get another chance to notch a quality non-conference win before taking a two week break for exams. Read inside for a full preview of Thursday night's matchup.

The Gamecocks enter the game against Providence with a disappointing 4-4 record. They have won easily in the four games against inferior opponents, but have been unable to get over the hump in the four games against NCAA Tournament quality competition. Carolina was competitive against Southern Cal, N.C. State, and George Mason, and even had the ball with a chance to win at the end of the latter two games. However, in their last game, against Clemson, the Gamecocks trailed by double digits almost the entire night, which led Devan Downey to question the team's commitment. On Wednesday, Dave Odom talked about whether the team needs a win to avoid the risk of a fractured locker room.

"I always applaud players for caring enough to challenge others, as long as you challenge yourself first," said Odom, adding that Downey must acknowledge he has struggled defensively. "It's hard to challenge others when you're not playing your very best in all areas. It's okay to say we all must play better. In all honesty, I'm not terribly disappointed with what he said. I like the fact that he challenged everybody, but maybe he could have done it in a better way."

Beating the Friars would also give the Gamecocks a quality win, after the four quality losses. If Carolina hopes to be playing in March, they need to put something on their resume before the conference schedule starts up. While Downey and the fans may already by thinking about the postseason, Odom refuses to think that far ahead. When a reporter tried to ask him how important beating Providence would be for the Gamecocks' postseason hopes, Odom cut him off.

"They're all important," he said. "This is the most important because it's next. We've got to step forward and win one of these games, and we will, in time. Whether it's tomorrow night or not, I can't tell you."

Since their last loss, the focus in practice for the Gamecocks has been defense. Odom is comfortable with the way the offense has played, and he feels like a better defensive effort will lead to even better offense.

"[We've put] a huge emphasis the last three days on improving our defense," said Odom. "We're simply not playing hard enough, and we're not playing well enough on defense. I think we've improved. I don't know how much, we'll find out tomorrow night. We've got to get to the point where it really matters when we give up a basket."

Odom noted that he expects Downey to step up his defensive play. He will also continue to search for a more reliable defender between Brandis Raley-Ross and Dwayne Day as the third guard in the starting lineup. Raley-Ross started the first six games before being benched for Day for the last two. Raley-Ross responded well, scoring 31 points combined in his two games coming off the bench. On the other hand, Day had a miserable outing against Clemson, going scoreless in 9 minutes and not playing at all in the second half.

"Dwayne Day, in the last couple days, has taken a baby step at least, and I think that's encouraging," Odom said. "He needs to step forward. I've told him, after three years, I don't think you can just shoot yourself into the lineup.

Carolina will be playing the first part of a double header at the neutral court site, the Wachovia Center. LSU will take on hometown Villanova in the night cap. Both games with be televised on ESPN2. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

The Gamecocks will have the next two weeks off for final exams, and then return to the court December 19 against Baylor.

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