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January 29, 2013
South Carolina had to hold on with every last ounce of strength at its disposal to beat Arkansas 43-40 on Sunday, surviving two Razorback chances to tie the game in the final 10 seconds, but did so. The Gamecocks, rising to No. 15 in The Associated Press' most recent Top 25, improved to 18-3, 6-2 SEC, and achieved their goal - to not get beaten up too badly in the first round of SEC play, and to hit the second half rejuvenated.
USC expanded so much energy in a gritty and intense win over Kentucky that perhaps the Arkansas game was expected. The Gamecocks were there mentally, but their legs were tired and they played that way. Now they're on their bye week, off until Sunday, and can rest up before approaching the rest of the season.
The goal is to finish in the top four of the SEC, ensuring a bye from the first two days of the SEC tournament and giving the team a much better chance of winning it for the first time in program history. Finishing in the top four would also nearly guarantee a top-four or top-five seed in the NCAA tournament, which is beginning to come into focus.
Charlie Creme's latest edition of "Bracketology" had the Gamecocks as a No. 4 seed, playing in Columbus, Ohio, in their first two rounds. He predicts that USC would be matched up with South Dakota State in the first round, and have Oklahoma and Wichita State on the other side.
It should be noted that Creme's edition was posted on Jan. 21, before the Gamecocks upset Kentucky and then continued the winning streak against Arkansas. It seems likely that USC could be a projected No. 3 seed in the next update, and perhaps be predicted to play closer to home (Knoxville, Tenn., and Durham, N.C., are hosts this year).
Predictions aside, though, USC knows of the business at hand. Predictions aren't worth much in the grand scheme of it, as the Gamecocks know that they can fall just as easily as they rose. There are eight games left to play and USC controls its own destiny, although it will need some help to finish in the SEC's top four.
Because of its losses to Tennessee and Georgia and not playing either again due to the rotating schedule, USC needs the Lady Volunteers and Lady Bulldogs to lose. Georgia and USC each have two conference losses already, but Tennessee is cruising along at 7-0.
Texas A&M, which visits Columbia on Feb. 10, is 6-1 in the league. The Gamecocks-Aggies game has the potential to be a make-or-break game for USC's chances, as there is no rematch to try and overcome a loss.
The schedule softens, although USC doesn't get back-to-back home games and has to play two road games back-to-back. The Gamecocks get Auburn (2-5), Mississippi State (1-6) and Florida (2-5, with a loss to USC already) at home along with A&M, and their road trips are against Alabama (2-5), Kentucky (7-1), Ole Miss (1-6) and Missouri (2-5).
The big one is obviously Kentucky, but USC has the advantage of already having won a game over the Wildcats. The best the Wildcats can do is tie, which would bring up the other tiebreaker scenarios in the battle for the top four. The Ole Miss game looms as a potential trap, as the Rebels have nothing to play for - they voluntarily imposed a postseason ban on themselves this year after a recruiting scandal led to the firing of coach Adrian Wiggins before he coached a game. If the Gamecocks think the game's sewn up, they might be in for a surprise.
This week, though, USC is resting and preparing for the stretch run. They get another bye between games on Feb. 17 and Feb. 24, then it will be the stretch of ending the regular season and playing the SEC tournament, before NCAA tournament bids are announced.
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