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January 28, 2009VANDERBILT COMMODORES (12-7, 1-4 SEC)
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (14-4, 3-2)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
Vanderbilt's probable starters: G Jermaine Beal 6-3 Jr. (11.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg); G Brad Tinsley 6-3 Fr. (10.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg); G/F Jeffery Taylor 6-7 Fr. (12.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg); C A.J. Ogilvy 6-11 So. (15.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg); F Steve Tchiengang 6-9 Fr. (3.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 Jr. (19.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Sr. (15.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg); F Dominique Archie 6-7 Jr. (11.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg); F Sam Muldrow 6-9 So. (4.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg); F/C Mike Holmes 6-7 So. (11.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina concludes a three-game homestand that has produced two wins thus far. ... The Gamecocks have not won three straight SEC games since the 2005-06 season. ... The all-time series is tied at 21 wins each, but Vanderbilt has won the past five meetings. ... The Commodores are on their longest losing streak (three games) in the past three seasons. ... Vandy features one of the most international teams in the country. Ogilvy is from Australia, Tchiengang is from Cameroon, Taylor is from Sweden and Festus Ezeli is from Nigeria. There are no South Carolina natives but Joe Duffy is from Charlotte, N.C. ... Ogilvy has been fighting an upper respiratory infection and his status/limitations for tonight are unknown.
Next game: USC plays at No. 24 Kentucky at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
It's been good to be home, especially considering the record.
But South Carolina can't rest on what it's done -- if so, what it hopes to do will fall apart.
"We've got to go out and get better today," coach Darrin Horn said. "In doing that, we'll put ourselves in position to have an opportunity to be in the game or win the game (tonight)."
The Gamecocks (14-4, 3-2 SEC) conclude a three-game homestand tonight against Vanderbilt that has offered wins against then-No. 24 Florida and Ole Miss. USC's playing well.
Playing better each night, especially before the next stretch, is crucial to the Gamecocks' goal.
"Overall, we're starting to understand coach Horn's system," guard Devan Downey said. "We know what have to do out there to win. I thought we had at least won two in a row last year, but we didn't. We want to take a step forward."
Defending the home court is a season-long objective but extending USC's stay in the upper half of the SEC is too. After tonight, that won't be easy.
Kentucky, ranked 24th in this week's Associated Press poll and fresh off a shocking loss to Ole Miss, awaits at Rupp Arena on Saturday. Florida, which USC knocked out of the Top 25 last week, won't still be reeling from Zam Fredrick's buzzer-beater three days after Kentucky in Gainesville.
It's perhaps the most murderous stretch of the season. All the more important why continuing to stand strong in Columbia, against the Commodores tonight, is so vital to USC's hopes.
"They're a very disciplined team," Downey said. "They play hard. Last year, those two games against them, both of them came down to the wire. Hopefully we can finish."
The Gamecocks lost to Vandy by seven and one last year. Two big parts of those games were SEC Player of the Year Shan Foster, who's departed, and center A.J. Ogilvy, who may not be at full strength tonight.
Ogilvy only played a minute of the second half of Vandy's 25-point loss to Florida in the last game, fighting an upper respiratory illness. His status for tonight is unknown but even without him, the Gamecocks aren't taking the game lightly.
Commodores coach Kevin Stallings has once again pieced together a team that will be good for a while. Vandy (12-7, 1-4) has taken its lumps so far this season but Horn quickly pointed out the competition that caused the losses -- Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Kentucky -- isn't anything to brush aside.
"I think there's not a better coach in the country than Kevin Stallings in terms of getting the most out of his team," Horn said. "They do what they have to do every year to be good. I expect they would continue to do that, but we don't want it to happen against us."
Horn will once again send out his newly christened starting five of Downey, Fredrick, Dominique Archie, Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow, which gets a longer, more athletic team on the floor. The extra length and emphasis on defense keeps USC from falling into deep holes when starting a game, the problem that ended up being a main factor in two losses to LSU and Tennessee.
With or without Ogilvy, it figures to be a challenge. Vandy, like most of the other teams USC will face down the stretch, has superior height and weight in the post.
That hasn't mattered in the last two games, though.
"We've got two straight and want another one," Downey said. "When we had one straight, we wanted another and we got it. Now we want three."
NOTE: Horn said the status of injured guard Branden Conrad still has no definite timetable. Conrad has not played since Dec. 18 after fracturing his right foot.
The hopeful prognosis was to have Conrad, a seven-game starter, back for the second half of SEC play, which begins on Feb. 7. That may be in jeopardy -- Horn said the foot has not healed the way it has to be for Conrad to begin rehabilitation work.