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March 1, 2014

Hoops preview: No. 17 Kentucky

No. 17 Kentucky (21-7, 11-4) at South Carolina (10-18, 3-12)
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Colonial Life Arena (18,000)
TV: ESPN
Series: Kentucky leads 47-10
Last meeting: Kentucky won 77-55 over USC on Feb. 5, 2013, at Rupp Arena.

For two teams coming off losses they'd like to forget, consider today's game an opportunity for a redemption of sorts.

No. 17 Kentucky is looking to rout the Gamecocks and in so doing flush an embarrassing home loss to Arkansas and prime itself for its accustomed NCAA Tournament run.

South Carolina is looking to find some way, any way, to taste victory as it closes out what has been a season beset with inexperience, inconsistency and nearly every manner of setback known to basketball.

With just two home games remaining, the Gamecocks face an uphill challenge if they hope to equal or better last year's 4-14 SEC record, competing against the most storied franchise in the SEC and among all of college basketball in Kentucky today and against the team ranked No. 1 in the nation Tuesday when top-ranked Florida comes to town.

With Sindarius Thornwell coming off his worst SEC game of the year (four points and five turnovers on 2-of-13 shooting at Auburn on Wednesday) and the rest of the team not named Brent Williams scuffling, it's not the most ideal time to face the SEC's two best teams, but such is life in the Southeastern Conference.

The snow is long gone, the whiteout game was a bust and the only thing colder than the nighttime lows in February has been South Carolina's shooting over two of its past three halves.

What's left to play for then is the future, the possibility of finding a bit of March magic and potentially securing a signature victory that could serve to kindle the spirits of the Gamecock faithful over what shapes up to be a long offseason of watching the NCAA tournament from home.

Three keys to victory

DIG DEEP: When there's not much left to play for besides pride, then pride is what you play for. Against Auburn, South Carolina looked tired, disorganized and disheveled and were subsequently nearly run out of the building by one of the league's worst teams. Against one of the league's best, if the Gamecocks bring the same effort, they'll be embarrassed, which is not the way Frank Martin wants this season to end. Good teams - even those with poor talent - play their best basketball at the end of the year, not their worst. What kind of USC team this will be remembered as depends a great deal on what happens today.

LET CARRERA BE CARRERA: I said this for Auburn, and I'll say it again. Right now, Michael Carrera is the only Gamecock playing with his hair on fire and competing to his utmost every possession. Other players surge and slump, emerge then disappear. It's not in Carrera's DNA to do that, and he needs to learn how to turn that energy into a positive that others feed off of./

HONOR BRENT: He's the team's lone senior, and he deserves to be surrounded by players who respect that, who do their best to make sure he goes out the right way just as one day they'll hope to have underclassmen do the same. Say what you want about Williams' shortcomings, and there are enough, but no one cares more than he does about winning, no one shows up more determined to do his best and no one appreciates his teammates more. No matter how good or bad you might be, that kind of attitude demands respect.

Probable starting lineups:

South Carolina
G - #0 Sindarius Thornwell, 6-5, 206 Fr. (13.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
G - #1 Brent Williams, 5-11, 172 Sr. (14.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg)
G - #10 Duane Notice, 6-2, 221 Fr. (7.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
F - #24 Michael Carrera, 6-5, 214 So. (6.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
F - #25 Midaugas Kacinas, 6-7, 210 So. (5.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg)

Kentucky
G - #1 James Young, 6-6, 215 Fr. (14.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
G - #2 Aaron Harrison, 6-6, 218 Fr. (13.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
G - #5 Andrew Harrison, 6-6, 215 Fr. (11.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
F - #15 Willie Caulie-Stein, 7-0, 244 So. (7.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
F - #30 Julius Randle, 6-9, 250 Fr. (15.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg)

Next game: South Carolina hosts Florida on Tuesday at 7 p.m.



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