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January 21, 2014

Hoops preview: Georgia

South Carolina (7-10, 0-4) at Georgia (9-7, 3-1)
When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.
Where: Stegeman Coliseum (10,523)
TV: SEC TV/ESPN3
Series Georgia leads 52-48
Last meeting: Georgia defeated USC 62-54 in overtime in Athens, Ga., on Feb. 22, 2013.

If South Carolina thought it was going to be easy to break Georgia's three-game winning streak (four-straight in Athens) after the Bulldogs limped out of the gate to a 6-6 non-conference record, Georgia's hot start in the SEC has put an end to that.

Georgia opened SEC play with a stunning overtime win over then-No. 21 Missouri, and only a loss on the road last week to then-No. 7 Florida has blemished the Bullgog's league record, which also includes home victories over Alabama and Arkansas.

"It's going to be a hard match-up for us," USC coach Frank Martin said. "Georgia's playing real well. They have found their identity. Everyone thinks you find your identity in the offseason. You don't find your team identity every year until you're right in the middle of the whole thing.

"They obviously have found who they are. Those kids are growing into their jobs, their roles, and they're doing a heck of a job right now."

Scouting Georgia this week, Martin said the song remains the same when it comes to guarding an SEC opponent - they're big, they're powerful, they push you around.

"I feel a lot more comfortable about what Georgia does after the last two days watching them (on film)," Martin said. "Our on-ball defense better be good, because they have big, strong athletic guards and they just bull rush you the way they drive the ball. If you reach, you're going to get beat and they get to the line. And they've been rebounding the heck out of the ball."

As to why the Bulldogs played so poorly earlier in the season, which included an 0-3 performance in the Charleston (S.C.) Classic where Georgia lost consecutive games to Davidson, Temple and Nebraska, Martin has no idea.

"I really haven't studied them back in November, I've been studying them here for their last five games," Martin said. "What I see a team right now, I can't tell you why they lost or whatever early. But what I can tell you is I see a team that's playing consistent in its way.

"They're not deviating as you watch them on film from what's helping them. They're defending. They don't give you easy baskets. They've got five big players on the court at all time, except when they play ( 5-foot-10 freshman guard J.J. Frazier), he's the only kind of jitterbug they have. Everyone else is a big, strong guard, a big, strong forward.

"They're cleaning the glass on the defensive side. They're getting to the foul line a little more than their opponent, and they're not giving you second chances on the defensive side. They've come up with a formula that looks real good as I watch them on film."

Three keys to victory

CONTROL THE PAINT: Against Ole Miss, South Carolina's four big men combined for a total of four defensive rebounds in the game (Sindarius Thornwell alone had six). For the Gamecocks to win, they need their forwards to lead the team in rebounds, not the guards. Sophomores Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas have to do more as the team's "veterans," while Demtrius Henry, who had no defensive rebounds against the Rebels, has to develop a battling mentality inside.

PLAY SMART: USC is averaging almost 20 turnovers a game (19.5) in SEC play, which is a big reason the Gamecocks are winless in the Southeastern Conference. Frank Martin doesn't mind aggressive turnovers, but he does mind careless turnovers that lead to easy baskets for the opponent. USC had 21 against Ole Miss - Martin said if they'd just have had 20, they'd have won.

BELIEVE: On Tuesday Martin said the Gamecocks were a few breaks away from being 3-1 in the league, and he's right. The team needs to believe that, believe in the progress being made and learn the lessons from those close losses in order to turn them into wins. Like the football team that also struggled late in games early in the season, perhaps the basketball team just needs some good fortune to go its way on the road, a la the Missouri game, to spark that belief, faith and trust in each other.

Probable starting lineups:

South Carolina
G - #0 Sindarius Thornwell, 6-5, 206 Fr. (12.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
G - #1 Brent Williams, 5-11, 172 Sr. (11.1 ppg., 1.9 rpg.)
G - #10 Duane Notice, 6-2, 221 Fr. (6.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
F - #14 Laimonas Chatkevicius, 6-11, 250 So. (4.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
F - #32 Desmond Ringer, 6-9, 255 Fr. (3.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg)

Georgia
G - #4 Charles Mann, 6-5, 210 So. (13.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
G - #12 Kenny Gaines, 6-3, 195 So. (11.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
F - #2 Marcus Thornton, 6-8, 235 R-Jr. (7.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
F - #15 Donte' Williams, 6-9, 225 Sr. (5.7 ppg., 5.3 rpg)
F - #31 Brandon Morris, 6-7, 215 So. (8.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg)

Next game: South Carolina travels to Missouri on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.



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