Last Dance for Dave?

Conference Tournaments are likely places for team turn-arounds. For the University of South Carolina to prolong Dave Odom's coaching career at least one more game, the Gamecocks will have to "flip" things Thursday.

The Gamecocks lost to Louisiana State University 62-55 at home on February 27, letting another close game slip away. USC has not beaten LSU since the 2004 SEC Tournament, but has never lost to LSU in the SEC tournament, going 2-0. Butch Pierre, interim head coach at LSU, may be a candidate for the job vacated by John Brady, but he is not a lock for it. This is Odom's final season with the Gamecocks.

Coach Dave Odom feels Carolina can "flip" the score just like his offense has "flipped" from being an almost complete outside scoring team to a mostly inside scoring team behind the resurgent freshmen Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow.

"The bench is a great teacher, and Mike Holmes didn't play the first several (SEC) games," said Odom. "He didn't work hard enough in practice, and there were several games where he played sparingly, if at all. He got a real strong message from me, and he started working harder in practice and with far less theatrics. He is playing fearlessly and making shots." Holmes has been named to the SEC All-Freshman team after becoming the first USC freshman to record three double-doubles in a season. He was named last week's SEC Freshman of the week.

Point guard Devan Downey has scored fewer points of late, but his assist total has risen to a Carolina season record 95 steals – Chuck Eidson held the record with 93 - and is expected to keep his soon-to-be new USC record of 3.2 steals per game. Downey still leads USC in scoring at 18.3 points per game. One ironic note: he needs seven steals to set the SEC season record, and his season high is six. That's another unusual reason to believe Carolina can win the rematch and give Odom a berth in the quarterfinals.

Carolina has had success at prolonging the season by winning in the SEC Tournament. Under Odom, USC is 3-3 in the first round of the SEC Tournament, with two first round losses to Mississippi. But each of Odom's Gamecocks have won on Thursday, they have won on Friday to reach the semi-finals. If you believe in "turns," it's time for a semi-final berth. The Gamecocks have made the semifinals every other year, in '02, '04 and '06.

If the Gamecocks beat LSU, they face regular season champion and Top Five team Tennessee in the quarterfinals Friday. Odom has a first round win over the Vols in '06, but the game to look at is USC's first SEC Tournament win against Tennessee in 2000. The 8th ranked Vols of Coach Jerry Green were almost as highly touted as the '07-'08 team of Bruce Pearl, but Coach Eddie Fogler's 13-16 Gamecocks beat Alabama by 10 before besting the Vols 75-68 to move into the semi-finals. Fogler's teams had four Thursday wins, but only twice followed that with a Friday win and a semi-final berth – by beating Kentucky in 1998 and Tennessee in 2000. Fogler's third SEC semi-final berth was when USC won the SEC regular season tournament and got a (Thursday) first round bye.

The key to wining may still be Downey, who has been shadowed by much taller but quick players since the Georgia game February 13. Whether it's been Marcus Thorton or Collis Temple of LSU, Derek Jasper or Roman Harris of Kentucky, or Tyler Smith of Tennessee, the 6'6" or 6'7" quick small forward defenders with long arms have limited Downey's scoring.

"The problem we had in that game (LSU) was their length. That's one of those teams that you see them on film, you see them on TV, and you don't have a real appreciation for their length at every position until you get them in the flesh…Their big guys, Johnson and Randolph, Green and others, (Quinton) Thornton…all bothered us with their length."

An improving Sam Muldrow may also be a key Thursday, according to Odom. "Sam is playing better in practice and I think he can be a force in this game because he has the length the LSU players have." But Odom points out the freshmen, like the rest of the team, have to recover from a sub-par second half performance against Tennessee. "Sam had a rough second half in the Tennessee game. He missed a couple easy lay-ups and they came out charging. Sam certainly has the ability to help us in this basketball game."

Odom has used Carolina's 6'6" long armed senior Dwayne Day as his stopper a'la Torrance Kinsey. Day enters his last SEC Tournament thinking about the end of each game. "We've got to finish games, come together as a team and tough down and grit it out and play defense." The Gamecocks have lost four games when leading with one minute or less left, and is 5-5 in games decided by three points or less.

The effect of close losses is not all negative, according to Downey. "It just gives us hope that there's a whole lot of young talent on this team, and this year everybody has got experience," said Downey. "Hopefully, starting this tournament we can close out games."

Coach Odom said his team has not lost focus and has not quit, despite being outscored by 32 points in the second half of Sunday's rout by Tennessee. He says his team gave in to the will of a better team on Senior Day, but did not give up.

Sophomore Dominque Archie starts his 61st straight game Thursday, every one the Gamecocks have played in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. Once the most dependable and best all around player on the team, Archie has stalled down the stretch and must improve his play for Carolina to succeed in the SEC Tournament. He says there is no quit in this team, despite the fact there is no hope for post-season play, except to win four games in four days to capture the SEC Tournament championship.

"As a team, I don't think anyone is giving up. All of us love the game of basketball, and if you love the game, there's no giving up," said Archie. The Gamecocks want to feel the love from a win and perhaps "flip" the SEC Tournament upside down, even if just for one more day.

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories