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January 16, 2009SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (12-3, 1-1 SEC)
NO. 24 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (10-5, 1-1)
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.
TV: Fox Sports Net
South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 Jr. (19.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Sr. (16.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G Brandis Raley-Ross 6-2 Jr. (7.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg); F Dominique Archie 6-7 Jr. (11.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg); F/C Mike Holmes 6-7 So. (11.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg)
Tennessee's probable starters: G Bobby Maze 6-2 Jr. (10.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G J.P. Prince 6-7 Jr. (9.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg); G Scotty Hopson 6-7 Fr. (8.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg); F Wayne Chism 6-9 Jr. (12.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg); F Tyler Smith 6-7 Jr. (17.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina finishes a two-game road swing before returning to Columbia for a three-game homestand. The Volunteers lead the series 29-23 and have won three straight and seven of 10. Tennessee is first in the SEC in scoring but last in defense. USC is third in scoring and ninth in defense. The Gamecocks remain atop the league in 3-point shooting (39.4 percent). Tennessee is celebrating its 100th year of basketball. USC sixth man Evka Baniulis doubled his career-high in steals, collecting four against LSU. USC's streak of losing its SEC road opener extended to five years. The Gamecocks have scored 68 points in each of their two SEC games this year.
Next game: USC hosts Florida at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
Considering recent history, there's never a good time to play Tennessee.
If ever there was a time to really not want to play the Volunteers, it's tonight. Yet South Carolina finds itself in exactly that position.
"They lost just like we did," Gamecocks guard Zam Fredrick said. "They're upset and we're upset. I don't care when the timing is, we're going to go out (tonight) and play."
Playing is not the concern. Playing well - and well enough to beat a horde of disgruntled orange-clad players - is.
The defending SEC champions are in unfamiliar territory. Since coach Bruce Pearl took over, they've won and won a lot. Checking into tonight, they've lost three of their last four games.
The competition - Kansas, Gonzaga and Kentucky - has been impressive. It's still alarming.
The No. 24 Vols (10-5, 1-1 SEC) had a 37-game home winning streak (including each of the past two full seasons) bite the dust against the Bulldogs. Then the Wildcats' Jodie Meeks gave NBA scouts something to think about by dropping 54 points on Tennessee four days ago in a 90-72 win.
USC (12-3, 1-1) is charged with the unenviable task of trying to give UT under Pearl another first - three straight home losses. Past history saw the same group of Gamecocks play competitively in every SEC game last season, except the two to Tennessee.
Average margin of defeat against the Vols last year: 28.5 points. Coming off a belittling 17-point drubbing at LSU the last time out, just the stat USC didn't want to hear.
"Top to bottom, in terms of roster talent, Tennessee's the most athletic team in our league," coach Darrin Horn said. "They've lost their last two home games and they're going to be ready to play."
As for his Gamecocks, after a re-approach on focus, Horn's hoping the same is true.
"When you look at Tennessee and what they've done and what happened in the past, you really want to knock them off," Fredrick said. "Just give ourselves a chance to win. The LSU game, we didn't give ourselves a chance to win the game."
Strangely, USC seems to match up better with Tennessee than it did with the Tigers. The Volunteers have the best collection of talent in the league, true, but they haven't played like it thus far.
UT at times seems to be five individuals doing their own separate thing. Talent like Tyler Smith, Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince will disguise a lot of loose play, but a patient team - like Gonzaga, which has beaten the Vols twice this year - can wear down the run-and-gun team.
Through 14 games, USC was patient. The Gamecocks could run and they could hold, and it produced 12 wins.
Against LSU, everything went wrong from the start. Shots didn't fall and the Tigers rebounded and out-raced the Gamecocks to the hole. USC had to play catch-up while in severe foul trouble and never got within shouting distance.
The Vols can do what the Tigers did - use the obvious guard height differential to contain the Gamecocks. USC's 5-foot-9 Devan Downey and 6-0 Zam Fredrick are dwarved by the 6-7 Prince and 6-7 Scotty Hopson.
But Downey and Fredrick have fought those battles throughout their two-year association and still managed to average between 15-20 points per person per game. If they can keep big men Mike Holmes and Dominique Archie off the bench and in the flow, perhaps they can match the Vols' outstanding athleticism.
It won't be easy. Tennessee is sure to be playing for redemption.
So are the Gamecocks. The LSU game was the first time all year that, despite their thin bench and their hanging-by-a-knee-ligament season, didn't answer the bell.
"We're going to try to get off to a good start and I know they're going to try to do the same thing," Fredrick said. "It's going to be a fistfight, we know what we're in for, we'll be ready for it."