Gamecocks return home to face UGA
In its last game at Kentucky, South Carolina played well for most of the game. But, as has been their Achilles' heel all season, when it came to crunch time, the Gamecocks were unable to protect a lead. Against Florida last Wednesday, after leading almost throughout the game, the Gamecocks managed just 2 points over the final 4 minutes as they watched the game slip away. Similarly, against Kentucky, a big run to start the second half gave Carolina the lead late, but the Wildcats clamped down defensively and used a late 12-3 run to notch the win.
"I told the team the other night, just keep knocking at the door and eventually it will come down," said Dave Odom. "You just can't get down about it. Our team, by anybody's standards is getting better. We played very well the other day, just not well enough to win for 40 minutes. It does get frustrating [to see leads slip away]. [But] I could not be more pleased with [the players'] effort and focus since all this happened."
It has been suggested, not least of all by the assistant coaches, that the Gamecocks are too fatigued at the end of the game to make plays. After seeing shot after shot hit the front of the rim against Kentucky, Odom is ready to admit that, in addition to controlling practice time more, he might have to alter playing time to try to control fatigue.
"We did take Sunday off and are going to go at it again today," Odom explained. "I am going to try to back off about 15 minutes in practice. I think one of our problems in SEC play is we become a little bit fatigued down the stretch. Maybe that is one of the reasons we haven't been able to finish the game while ahead in the second half. I want to make sure our team goes into tomorrow night's game as fresh as possible. My staff is leaning really hard on me to give Devan [Downey] and Zam [Fredrick] both some rest during the game. That has not been my tendency. They [assistant coaches] assure me that can't do anything but help."
The biggest challenge to resting Downey and Fredrick is the continued struggles of Brandis Raley-Ross, who is hampered by a left knee sprain. Ideally, Raley-Ross would be the third guard, able to take pressure and minutes away from Downey and Fredrick. With Raley-Ross mired in a shooting slump and lacking confidence, he has become too much of a liability to play extended minutes.
"We need him back in the rotation so we can get the rest for Downey and Fredrick that we need," Odom said. "He should be a 22-24 minute player, and he's not right now. We've got to make up those minutes somehow.
Adding to the difficulties shooting, the Gamecocks are not helping themselves in late game situations by getting to the free throw line. Against the Wildcats, USC attempted just three free throws, making two. While that is to be expected because the Gamecocks are a jump shooting team, they would not attempt as many free throws as their opponents. Odom wants Downey and Fredrick to try harder to draw contact when they penetrate. He explained that if the ball handler runs into a defender's arm or knee, he will usually get the call from the referees.
"We can't play the game avoiding contact," said Odom. "We've got to force contact, and the referees will blow the whistle and hopefully they'll blow it in our favor some. We come off some of those ball screens, and they're out there with their big guy trying to help. Downey comes and he arcs out to get around him with his speed, which he can do. What I would like to see is when he comes off those ball picks... crash into him a little bit. I think the ball handler gets the advantage there."
The Bulldogs come to Columbia just 1-6 away from Athens this year, and 0-2 in SEC road games. However, they have beaten the Gamecocks in four straight contests, two of them in Columbia. Georgia routed Carolina in both contests last year, winning 80-56 in Athens and then 73-54 in Columbia. Odom joked that he is not eager to relive any of those games.
"The history of our games the last two years," Odom lamented, "it's been anything except something you would want to put in a book and say this is how you play basketball. They have been some difficult struggles."
Prior to Georgia's four game winning streak, however, the Gamecocks had won four straight.
- The all-time series between these two schools cannot get much more even. Carolina is 26-15 against Georgia in Columbia. Georgia is 26-15 against Carolina in Athens. In neutral site games, Georgia has a 4-3 advantage.
- Odom indicated that Evka Baniulis will probably start for Sam Muldrow, although recently Odom tends to change his mind after telling the media who will start.
- Tipoff for the game is at 7:30. At halftime, Gamecock Great Jamel Bradley will be honored.
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