Gamecocks prepare to challenge #4 Vols

The Gamecocks travel to Knoxville on Sunday to take on SEC Champion Tennessee in the regular season finale for both teams. The #4 ranked Volunteers have a lot on the line in the game. The game will be broadcast on the Raycom television network at 2 pm.

The Volunteers (27-3, 13-2 SEC) have already clinched the SEC regular season crown, and are now playing for a potential number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. On the flip side, South Carolina (13-16, 5-10 SEC) is trying to avoid finishing last in the SEC for the second straight year.

If the Gamecocks lose, and Georgia, Alabama, and Auburn win, all four teams would finish 5-11 in the SEC. Despite the fact that Carolina was long ago cast in the role of playing spoiler to the teams above them, Dave Odom bristled when it was suggested the Gamecocks could find motivation in trying to prevent the Vols from getting a top seed.

"I am not good at that," Odom said. "That's kind of a negative approach to winning the game. I want us to win the game because we are getting better, but not because I want to spoil Tennessee's party. I want us to win the game because we are good enough."

Although this will be his final regular season game, Odom thinks the Gamecocks will play better now that the emotion of his retirement has passed. There was a great deal of emotion over the past two or three games with the team and fans wanting to send Odom out a winner. Now that the milestone of the final home game is gone, the Gamecocks can focus more on the game at hand knowing they will play at least two more times.

"I think that part of it's over," said Odom. "The emotion of my departure has received maybe undo attention. I think now we can get back to playing basketball, trying to be a better team, improving, and getting ourselves ready for the tournament next week. It is going to be simply an away game, playing a top team in the country with a lot at stake."

Tennessee has won this season by putting relentless pressure, offensively and defensively, on its opponents. They like to get out and run on offensive, and they play aggressive full court defense to creat those running opportunities. For a team that normally likes to slow the game down, it is extra important that the Gamecocks do not get caught up running at what Odom called the Volunteers' "NASCAR speed."

"Our biggest job is to go up there and establish the tempo we want," he said. "We've got to do it offensively and we've got to do it defensively. We have to establish the speed quickly. They press when they feel it's appropriate, play a great half court defense when they feel that's in order, always pushing the ball offensively, quick shots, drives sinking the defense. They have a tenacious attacking of the offensive glass."

In the first meeting this season between these two teams, Tennessee was able to play at its speed and create big scoring bursts. Carolina struggled handling the full court pressure, especially when the Vols trapped. The end result was an 80-56 loss for Carolina, the largest margin of defeat for the Gamecocks this season. Given the opposite paths the two teams have taken since that first game, as well as the conflicting post-season prospects, there is a sense that Carolina could be on the wrong end of another lopsided score. Odom insisted he is not worried about that happening.

"They can make it ugly for everybody," Odom said. "The only way it gets ugly is if they play out of their minds, and we allow that happen without competing. If we don't play intelligent basketball then, yes, that certainly could happen, but that would happen to anybody."

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