Gamecocks return home to face Crimson Tide

The Gamecocks (11-12) return home to face off against the Alabama Crimson Tide (14-11) on Saturday night. Read inside for a full preview of Saturday's matchup.

Carolina is coming off a lifeless loss to Georgia, a team they beat just two weeks earlier. Adding further insult, the Bulldogs were without their second leading scorer. Not surprisingly, Dave Odom put the team through a tough practice on Thursday.

"We went hard, really hard, for an hour," Odom said. "Our live work was really hard, and I think they expected that. They were physically spent at the end of that time."

One player who did not go through that scrimmage was Devan Downey. Downey, who is second in the SEC in scoring at 19.4 points per game, has been affected by a sprained ankle, though his play has not necessarily shown it. As a precaution, trainers held Downey out of the scrimmage to rest the ankle. Downey participated in the other drills during practice.

"He was moving nicely," Odom reported. "He shot over on the side. I didn't see any limp or anything like that, but we did give his ankle a day away from scrimmage to heal itself. I see no reason he would not [be available Saturday]."

Following the win at Ole Miss, Carolina was 3-4 in the SEC with a home date against a struggling Vanderbilt team up next. Had they won that game, the Gamecocks would have had a .500 conference record and been poised to make some noise down the stretch. Instead, Vanderbilt won on a buzzer-beater and the Gamecocks sleepwalked through the Georgia game, leaving Carolina in the SEC East cellar. There is a notion that the Gamecocks may be simply going through the motions as they wait for a fresh start under a new coach next season. However, Odom emphatically stated that he will not let his players give up on the season.

"I don't worry that, because I know I'm not doing that," Odom said emphatically. "I do worry about us falling into a bit of a tailspin. We can lose games because we aren't good enough, but it is not acceptable to just play out the string. You can't do that, and I'm not going to allow that."

The Crimson Tide come to Columbia in a similar situation to the Gamecocks. Alabama is just 3-7 in SEC play, but they did win their last game against Ole Miss. However, the Crimson Tide present a clear matchup problem for Carolina. They are led by one of the SEC's premier post players, Richard Hendrix. The Gamecocks have struggled all year to defend the post and rebound, and Hendrix is the only player in the SEC averaging a double-double (18.7 points, 10.3 rebounds).

"When you think it couldn't get any worse - it does: we have Richard Hendrix coming at us," Odom said. "Richard Hendrix, statistically, is the most productive big man in the Southeastern Conference. He is the fourth-leading scorer in the SEC, number one rebounder, number two in field goal percentage, top three in blocked-shots, 6' 9" and 270 pounds, and a veteran. The beat goes on. The first order of business is to try to figure out how to play him."

If Hendrix has a weakness, it is at the free throw line, where he shoots just 51.6%. Odom wants to make Hendrix shoot free throws whenever possible, but the personal fouls could add up. Dominique Archie will draw the defensive assignment on Hendrix, but he will need help from reserves Sam Muldrow and Mike Holmes. The players will have to foul smartly, and Muldrow and Holmes will have to play well enough that the Gamecocks do not suffer while they are on the court, something they have not done consistently lately.

"You've got to foul for profit," explained Odom. "You have to foul for profit with him (with Richard Hendrix because he is not a great free throw shooter). Guys that shoot 62% from the field but don't shoot that at the free throw line, you are better off giving a foul. Now, how many of those can you give, given that you don't sub much at that position? I can't afford to have Archie with 3-4 fouls quick. That role has got to be shared across the board."

Game notes:

- Gamecock Great John Roche will be honored at halftime, and will be signing autographs.

- Alabama leads the all time series 19-10, but has not won in Columbia since 2002.

- Tipoff is at 7:00 PM and the game will be televised by FSN.

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