USC travels to Bayou for first SEC road test

SEC play could not have started much better for the Gamecocks (12-2, 1-0 SEC), who notched a 68-56 home win over Auburn last Saturday behind a big night from Zam Fredrick. The challenge only gets tougher though, as Carolina must trek down to the Bayou to square off against LSU (12-3, 0-1 SEC) on Wednesday night.

Unlike the Auburn Tigers, who were similar in size to the Gamecocks, the LSU Tigers are taller, longer, and more athletic than Carolina. LSU starts 6'11" Chris Johnson at center, and brings 6'9" Quinton Thornton and 6'7" Storm Warren off the bench. That size results in a big rebounding edge for the Tigers, who out-rebound opponents by nearly eight rebounds per game. In two games against South Carolina last season (a win in Columbia and a loss in the SEC Tournament), the Tigers outrebounded the Gamecocks 42-27 and 44-28.

"The biggest challenge is that it's on the road," Darrin Horn said about the Tigers. "They're a really athletic team. They're really long. They've got a couple guys who have the potential of having huge nights; [Tasmin] Mitchell and [Marcus] Thornton specifically."

A forward, Mitchell averages 14.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, both second on the team. Thornton is LSU's leading scorer at 18.5 points per game, and leads a very talented trio of guards. Bo Spencer scores 12.3 points per game, and is hitting an eye-popping 42.9% from behind the arc. As talented as Thornton and Spencer are, the real key to the Tigers may be Garrett Temple. Temple's numbers are pedestrian: 6.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.2 steals. He fills up the stat sheet, though, and is one of the best defenders in the SEC. In LSU's 62-55 defeat of the Gamecocks last year, Temple held Devan Downey to just six points and six assists.

"He's a terrific defender," Horn gushed when asked about Temple. "He's probably, of all the teams we've played this year, one of my favorite players. He's athletic and he does all the little things. He's not just a guy who's out there doing one facet of the game."

Helping the Gamecocks combat the Tigers' size and athleticism will be forward Sam Muldrow. Muldrow played his first game of the season against Auburn, going scoreless in 10 minutes while grabbing one rebound, getting two steals, and committing three fouls. Muldrow had missed all of the season up to that point, first with a suspension due to academic issues, and then because of a sprained left elbow. At 6'9", Muldrow has the best combination of size, athleticism, and talent of any Gamecock.

"He's long, he's athletic, he's going to get his hands on a few balls, maybe grab a rebound, maybe get a tip in, and do some things defensively that some of our other guys can't do," said Horn. "We saw some of that in breaking down the film from Saturday. Hopefully he can continue to do those things."

It is no coincidence that with Muldrow back, center Mitchell Carter never got off the bench against Auburn. At 6'10", Carter was forced to play in Muldrow's absence because he is the only other big man on the roster. Carter is far from an SEC-caliber player, so even though Muldrow estimates he is only 90% healthy, he is a huge upgrade over Carter.

"I can mostly do everything, [the elbow] just hurts a little every now and then," Muldrow said. "It was pretty good to be back out on the court. I enjoyed it. I'm just trying to get used to playing again. It's been a long time since I played."

The trip to LSU comes between the big win over Auburn and a Saturday trip to Tennessee, the favorites to win the SEC this year. There is a temptation to look ahead to the Volunteers, but the win plus Muldrow's return has Horn concerned about how the Gamecocks respond to success.

"I think we have a pretty good idea of what our team is made of right now," he said. "The challenge is going to be responding to how things go. The misnomer is that that means only when things go bad; when they go good, how you handle that is important too. There's no one game that makes or breaks you by any means."

Tip-off for the game is 8:00 Eastern. The game will be televised by Cox Sports Television on tape delay in Louisiana. It will not be televised in South Carolina. Mike Morgan and Casey Manning will call the game for the ISP Gamecock Radio network.

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