Different directions

Columbia's Colonial Center will be the site of this afternoon's 3:30 p.m. tipoff between Tennessee and South Carolina – two teams headed in opposite directions. The Volunteers hope to keep it that way.

Tennessee (18-8 overall, 6-5 SEC) has won three games in a row. Carolina (12-12, 2-9) has lost five in a row. Tennessee's Bruce Pearl could run for mayor in Knoxville. Dave Odom could be run out of town in Columbia.

Pearl, who always finds something good to say about the opponent, came through again.

"Those seniors and Coach Odom are to be commended for keeping these guys focused," the Vol coach said. "This team continues to play hard and continues to play good basketball."

Just not good enough to win. The Gamecocks' last five outings were an 80-75 homefloor loss to Auburn, a 64-61 setback at Alabama, a 96-89 defeat at Kentucky, a 73-54 homefloor loss to Georgia and a 78-68 setback at Vanderbilt.

"South Carolina continues to play competitively," Pearl said. "They've had a rough stretch as far as results are concerned, but three of their last five have been on the road and they've been competitive."

Oddly enough, the Gamecocks have been more competitive on the road than at home. The road losses during the five-game skid were by an average of 6.67 points. The two home losses were by an average of 12.0 points.

Odom noted that UT is back on track now that Chris Lofton – injured in the Jan. 20 Vol-Gamecock meeting at Knoxville – is back on the floor.

""Tennessee's at full strength once again," the Gamecock head man said. "They've got Chris Lofton back. Certainly, any team would be happy to have a player of his caliber back."

Odom makes one very good point regarding the Vols, noting that "several of their younger players have gotten a lot of experience" since the Jan. 20 meeting.

That's a fact. Freshmen Wayne Chism, Duke Crews, Ramar Smith and Josh Tabb have matured considerably in the three weeks since Tennessee prevailed 64-61 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Odom also noted that the Vols are "starting to make shots." That's especially true of reserve guard Jordan Howell. Over the past five games he has hit 12 of 21 shots from 3-point range (57.1 percent) and averaged 7.8 points per outing.

Tennessee is expected to start its recent lineup of 6-9 Wayne Chism and 6-4 Dane Bradshaw inside, with the 6-2 trio of Lofton, JaJuan Smith and Ramar Smith in the backcourt.

South Carolina will counter with 6-7 Dominique Archie (8.6 points per game), 6-9 Brandon Wallace (10.4 points, 9.7 rebounds), 6-4 Bryce Sheldon (8.3 points), 6-2 Brandis Raley-Ross (5.7 points) and 6-0 Tre Kelley (18.0 points, 5.0 assists).

One of the keys to the game will be turnovers. Tennessee is the SEC's best team at forcing turnovers (18.8 per game), while Carolina is the SEC's best team at avoiding turnovers (just 11.7 per game).

Today's game will be televised by ABC.

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