Gamecocks looking to bounce back in Knoxville

The Gamecocks (12-3, 1-1 SEC) travel to Knoxville Saturday for their second consecutive SEC road game. Following the loss at LSU, Carolina will try to right the ship against Tennessee (10-5, 1-1 SEC), the favorites to win the SEC. The Volunteers are ranked 24th in the AP poll, the only ranked SEC team, but are also coming off a conference loss of their own.

South Carolina lost 85-68 at LSU Wednesday night. The Gamecocks came out of the gates slowly and trailed 40-22 at the half. They essentially played the Tigers to a draw in the second half, but were unable to overcome the poor start.

"From the jump, our mentality was not what it needed to be on both ends of the floor," said coach Darrin Horn. "It's even more important to understand to do that on the road in league play."

The Vols dropped their conference home opener to Kentucky 90-72. The story of the game was Kentucky's Jodie Meeks, who lit up Tennessee for a school-record 54 points. That loss ended Tennessee's 16 game SEC home winning streak, after the Vols saw their 37-game overall home winning streak ended earlier this year against Gonzaga. Still, Tennessee is among the best teams in the conference, and features preseason Player of the Year Tyler Smith.

"I still think top-to-bottom, just in terms of roster talent [they are] the deepest and most athletic team in our league," Horn said. "Obviously they're coming off a conference loss at home… and they're going to be a team that's hungry and ready to play."

Tennessee was outrebounded by the Wildcats, something that has not happened often this season. The Vols outrebound opponents by an average of 7.5 boards per game. The Gamecocks struggle to rebound the ball, but acquitted themselves fairly well against LSU. The Tigers grab an average of almost eight more rebounds per games, but had only a 38-35 edge on the glass against the Gamecocks. Carolina held its own without much help from Mike Holmes (four rebounds) or Sam Muldrow (two rebounds). Muldrow is still working his way back into shape after his elbow injury, but if he can get back to full strength, he should big a big boost to the Gamecocks' rebounding numbers.

"He's been solid," Horn said. "The encouraging thing is he's going to continue to get better and he's due for a breakout game. It'd be great if that were [against Tennessee]. He's not doing things that he's capable of [yet]."

Elsewhere on the injury front, forward Dominique Archie is fine after rolling his ankle against LSU. The news is not so good for guard Branden Conrad. Conrad was scheduled to have the cast removed from his broken foot this week, but the injury has not healed as quickly as expected. Conrad will still be out another 1-2 weeks after the cast is removed, meaning it will be at least February before he comes back.

"Our goal would be hopefully, […] the last half of the conference season," Horn said. "We don't look ahead on those things because you don't know."

Part of Tennessee's rebounding edge comes from its overall size. The Volunteers start three players 6'7" plus another at 6'9", and get contributions from four more players 6'6" or taller off the bench. All told, just two of the top ten Volunteers are under 6'6": 6'2" Bobby Maze, who would match Brandis Raley-Ross as the tallest Gamecock guard, and 6'4" Josh Tabb. Carolina can match Tennessee's size in the front court with Muldrow (6'9"), Austin Steed (6'8"), Holmes, Archie, and Evka Baniulis (all 6'7"), but not in the backcourt. Of course, when your guards are Devan Downey *5'9"), Zam Fredrick (6'0), Robert Wilder (6'1"), and Raley-Ross (6'2"), almost every opponent has a height advantage, so the Gamecocks are well-versed in how to approach the challenge.

"It's overall length that's strong for them," Horn said. "We're going to deal with them the way we deal with everybody we play that's bigger than us, and that's most people."

Tipoff is at 6:00 PM. The game will be televised by FSN South.

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