USC ready for final home stand, shot at East
Zam Fredrick says he thinks about the moment every now and then. But even though USC will be honoring their two departing seniors at Thursday night's game, Fredrick believes that celebrating Senior Day will end up being the furthest thing from his mind.
Fredrick, along with fellow senior Branden Conrad, will be the two players participating in their final home game at the Colonial Life Arena on Thursday. But most importantly they will have a shot to win the SEC Eastern Division crown and secure a bye in the first round of the conference tournament.
Opportunities like that are what Fredrick say he and fellow transfers Conrad and Devan Downey wanted to be a part of when they transferred to South Carolina.
"We wanted to do big things for the program. We came out here, we're home grown products, we put in work in high school and everybody respects our game for what we did," Fredrick said. "And us being out here with a chance to win the East and hang a banner in the gym and position ourselves to get a bye in the SEC Tournament and hopefully make the NCAA tournament, that was the goal when we came here and I think we're in a good position to do it."
Fredrick might have it understated as the Gamecocks (20-7, 9-5 SEC) are in the driver's seat for the SEC East title for the first time since the 1996-97 season. Though they are tied with Tennessee (18-10, 9-5 SEC) coming into today's game, Carolina controls its own destiny in the race for that elusive top spot in the division.
The math for USC is simple – beat the Volunteers today and Georgia on Saturday and the division, as well as a first round bye in the SEC Tournament, are theirs. Lose and things get complicated.
"It's sort of like a rerun. We're in the same spot we were last week," USC coach Darrin Horn said of his team hosting Kentucky last Wednesday. "I think the important things are that we recognize what it is that we're playing for and that it is a big game. We're extremely excited about that but stick with what got us to this point, which was continuing to stay focused on the little things."
One of those things the Gamecocks and support staff have been focusing on is what is happening off the court. Over the course of the season, attendance at the Colonial Life Arena has risen from barely a fourth of the capacity to nearly being sold out the last four home games.
Horn attributes Carolina's success to two equal parts – on-court hustle by the players and a strong home environment by the crowd. Those two pieces coming together are something Horn hoped would happen as the season progressed so that fans would feel involved in the process of building a program. So far it has worked to perfection as USC goes for its first perfect conference season at home since the 1996-97 season.
"It's been amazing. You're looking at it not even being a third full for the first few games, and now basically we're moving towards four full houses in a row. The atmosphere has been absolutely phenomenal, and I think it's helped our team without question," Horn said. "We said when we got here what we wanted to do was build it together, that we felt like our fan base and the fans specifically that are at the games are a part of what we're doing. And they've definitely done that. They've been a part of what we've been doing, and that's really been a lot of fun to be a part of."
With so much at stake for the Gamecocks, Fredrick is ready to just enjoy the evening. Though playing in his final game in Columbia will be meaningful, he acknowledges that it won't be nearly as special unless he and the team focus on the most important thing – getting a win.
"Emotions probably won't kick in until that time when it's time for me to walk out there. I think about it every so often, but I just approach every game the same way. It's another game, big game for us. I think about it being my last home game, but at the same time it's another game," Fredrick said. "It's been a long, long college career, but it's been short at the same time. I've been through a lot, seen it all and don't want it to end, but it's coming to that time. Last home game I'm going to be focused on getting the win."
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