Horn ready for first taste of rivalry game

The Gamecocks (9-1) are off to their best start since 2003, but it has come against one of the weakest schedules in the nation. They will take a big step up in the level of competition this week, hosting Clemson (#20 in the AP poll, #16 in the USA Today Coaches' poll) and then visiting Baylor (#19 AP, #20 Coaches). It is not exactly the best Christmas present Darrin Horn could have hoped for.


First up for South Carolina is Clemson. The Gamecocks have struggled against their upstate rival ever since Oliver Purnell took over the Tigers. Purnell is 5-1 against Carolina, and has won four straight. Clemson presents a double challenge for the Gamecocks: not only is it a rivalry game, but the 12-0 Tigers are the best opponent Carolina has faced so far this year.

"There's no question it's the best team we've faced this year," Horn said. "We'll find out a lot about our team because this is a Top 25 [opponent]."

The eternal coaching debate regarding rivalry games is, do you emphasize the importance of beating your rival and potentially disrupt your team, or do you treat it as just another game. Most coaches try to find a balance somewhere between the two extremes, but there is no perfect center. Horn leans toward the "just another game" side.

"In terms of what we do, we're going to approach it like we always do," he said. "Any coach will tell you you're making a mistake if you do anything different. You need to be preparing like every game is the biggest game of the year; this one just takes on more meaning because of the rivalry."

The Gamecocks will once again be without guard Branden Conrad (foot) and forward Sam Muldrow (elbow). Muldrow, who has yet to play this year, would have been a welcome addition against the Tigers. Clemson is led by the inside-outside play of K.C. Rivers (14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds) and post play of Trevor Booker (14.5 points, 9.6 rebounds). Rivers and Booker lead a balanced attack that features seven players who score six or more points per game.

"They're a good basketball team, and those are two standout guys for them," said Horn. "I think it's their whole that's the challenge. We're going to need a total team effort."

Though the Gamecocks had several days off for Christmas last week, there has been no holiday hangover. The players returned to campus the evening of the 26th, and got right back to work.

"They've come in and been focused," Horn said. "Our whole goal, even in a game like this, is we want to continue to get better. Our guys have come back and done a good job with that."

The game was originally scheduled to be played the first Saturday in December, as it has the last several years. However, this year that date was Reading Day at USC, the last day before final exams, and Gamecocks athletics teams are not allowed to host games on Reading Day. The result was pushing the game back to December 30, when not only are the students gone, but many fans of both teams are in Florida for bowl games. Tip off will be Tuesday at 7:00. The game will be televised by FSN (not SportSouth).


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