Gamecocks return home to face Miss. State
With all of the weekend events scheduled plus opening weekend for the baseball team, the game may be in danger of being an afterthought for the fans. For the team, however, that is unlikely to be a problem.
"I don't think it is," said Dave Odom. "I think our team is young enough and separated enough from the weekend events that I don't believe that will be a distraction. If anything it will serve as motivation for them to play better. The culminating star would be a victory over Mississippi State."
The only time the current Gamecocks are likely to run into the former Gamecocks is toward the end of practice on Friday. The former players who are participating in the reunion have been invited to watch the end of practice. For the most part, the team's entire focus will be on the Bulldogs. Mississippi State is 8-3 in the SEC, tops in the SEC West. They are also the best in the SEC in scoring defense.
"They give up points grudgingly," Odom said. "Trying to figure out how to handle [point guard] Jamont Gordon and [forward] Charles Rhodes at the same time is going to be a problem. They may be the best inside-outside team in our league. Hopefully we can cause some problems for them as well. We've carved out an offensive niche that is not real easy to guard if you've got big people trying to do it."
One thing that should make defending Rhodes a little easier is the emergence of freshman forward Mike Holmes. After being left out of the rotation for five weeks, Holmes has come back with a vengeance in the last two games. Against Alabama, Holmes had 10 points and 8 rebounds, and he followed it up with 16 points and 11 boards against Florida, his first career double-double. His strength in the post combined with his shooting touch gives the Gamecocks a valuable option, but Odom is not ready to put Holmes up for the all-freshman team just yet.
"Mike Holmes certainly has caught everyone's eye, but let's not rush to crown him too soon," he said. "Let's let him go another game or two and make sure that he settles himself into whatever role is best for our team. Fifteen to seventeen feet is an easy shot for him if he is open. I want him to shoot open shots that he can make. We don't need another three-point shooter. He can make them. If you start off letting big guys shoot threes, you have a hard time getting them back in the lane. It's fun. If he's not open, what does he do with it? Nobody knows how to get the ball out of his hands."
Holmes emergence has been especially valuable, though, because it has come at a time when the team's second leading scorer, Zam Fredrick, is experiencing a scoring slump. Fredrick scored in double figures in 21 of the team's first 23 games, but was held to single digits in the last two games. This included a 1-11 shooting performance against Alabama. Even worse, Fredrick was guilty of forcing bad shots against the Gators.
"He hasn't played well in games for 7-10 days and he hasn't really played well in practice either," Odom said. "He's trying. He may be going through a period of time where he just isn't playing well. Maybe less is better for him; back off a little bit and let the game come to him a little. That might be the best medicine for him right now. He'll be starting tomorrow night, and I expect him to play well."
Although more than 140 players are expected to attend the reunion, one who will be missing is Tom Owens. Despite numerous attempts to convince Owens to come back to Columbia and to have his jersey retired, Owens has made it clear that not only does he have no interest in returning, he feels insulted that Carolina has waited 37 years to honor him. Odom has made several efforts to bring Owens back, and while he said he would not talk through the media, he hoped that Owens would be willing to forgive the mistakes of the past.
"The effort that we made to get him to come back was not done with the idea that we were trying to insult him," said Odom. "If we caused him any pain or grief, I would be the first to step forward and apologize. I really think that kind of thing could be worked out if the two parties, the University and he, were to meet face to face and sit down and talk. That would be the best chance of getting it worked out rather than do it through an intermediary. Whatever harm was done, was done 37 years ago. The people that are here now are trying to correct that decision."
- Approximately 1,000 tickets remain for the game. The tickets are also good for the alumni game at 1:30 Saturday. Odom said of the alumni game, "I would pay to see them play."
- Tipoff is at 4:00. The game will be televised by Raycom and WIS in Columbia.
- The Gamecocks are 3-0 versus the SEC West this season, and have won two straight against the Bulldogs. This included Carolina's first ever win in the state of Mississippi, 66-63 last season.
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