Gamecocks prepare for Gardner-Webb

When: 7:03 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets:Available at the box office
Gardner-Webb's probable starters: G Aaron Linn 6-3 Sr. (18.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg); G Grayson Flittner 6-0 Jr. (19.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg); C Auryn MacMillan 6-8 Jr. (11.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg); F Joshua Henley 6-4 Fr. (11.7 ppg, 10.0 rpg); F Anton Silver 6-2 Jr. (11.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 Jr. (16.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Sr. (17.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg); G Branden Conrad 6-2 Sr. (4.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg); F Dominique Archie 6-7 Jr. (9.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg); F/C Mike Holmes 6-7 So. (11.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg)
Notes: Darrin Horn will become only the second South Carolina coach in history to win his first four games at the school with a victory tonight. The record for consecutive wins by a first-year coach is five, set by Johnnie McMillan in the1944-45 season. ... The two teams have met only once before, USC winning 83-74 in the 2003-04 season. ... USC is 60-15 all-time against the Big South Conference, which Gardner-Webb officially joined this year. ... Holmes continues to lead the SEC in offensive rebounds (6.0 per game, holding a commanding edge over second-place Perry Stevenson of Kentucky (3.67). ... Conrad is expected to make his third straight start in the absence of injured guard Brandis Raley-Ross. USC will also have a nine-man team for the third straight game, as forward Sam Muldrow is out on academic suspension. ... G-W hasn't played a home game yet this year, while USC will play its first road game on Friday.
Next game: USC plays at College of Charleston at 7 p.m. on Friday.
No chance of overlooking. No chance.
Not after Gardner-Webb became the latest mid-major school to hoist the banner for all giant-killers last year.
The Runnin' Bulldogs shocked their opponents, the country and probably themselves last year by strutting into Rupp Arena and beating Kentucky. Although G-W finished the year 16-16, it became the spark that lit a bonfire of Atlantic 10 upsets over schools that seem to have an agreement with ESPN to always lead "SportsCenter."
Fast forward a year later, and G-W hasn't beaten a big-name school and is in a whole new conference -- the Big South. Still, South Carolina can't take anything for granted.
Gardner-Webb is 0-3 but its losses have been by a combined eight points. The Bulldogs took then-No. 12 Oklahoma to the wire last week before falling 80-76, again raising the concern that these guarantee games are anything but.
"Really dangerous basketball team," were the first words out of Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn's mouth on Monday. "Shoot the ball extremely well. Outstanding in transition. Mostly play zone defense and try to lull you into playing that game as well. It's definitely a game that presents some challenges for us.
"I don't know that we've accomplished anything to be overlooking anybody at this point. I think young people always stand up and take notice when it's performing against names that you recognize."
The Gamecocks (3-0) have won each of their games by an average of over 19 points, including one 23-point shellacking of Gardner-Webb's conference mate (and preseason league champ) Winthrop. Still, after the last game (75-53 over USC Upstate) featured a sluggish second half on each side of the ball, no one's going around trumpeting their brilliance with the roundball.
"We were taking good shots, but on the defensive end, we were letting what happened on the offensive end dictate how hard we played on defense," guard Zam Fredrick said, following the Upstate win. "We can't ever have that. We preach that every day."
Playing Gardner-Webb, a game before USC's first two road games of the season and with minds perhaps a little distracted by the home-cooked meal they're going to get on Thursday, plus a so-so performance in the last game ...
Could anybody blame Horn for being a little critical?
"Our focus right now is effort," he said. "That's something that's going to take a while and that's something that, evaluating the film, I don't think we did a good job of on Saturday."
That day, against Upstate, USC shot to a 22-point lead over the Spartans, doing the same thing it's done in its other two games. Get in front quickly, mixing the 3-pointer and blinding transition. Play hounding defense, using the undersized guards to swipe underneath and the post men, all long and lanky, to wrap those arms around the passing lanes.
The problem was, the 22-point lead stayed that way. That may have pleased many in Colonial Life Arena, who are used to seeing a big lead disappear too fast for Houdini to conjure it, but for Horn, it wasn't.
USC and USC Upstate scored the same amount of points in the second half (28). It seemed to be one of those nights where the Gamecocks just couldn't get the lid off the basket, as evidenced by Mike Holmes' 2-for-15 performance, many which were shot from 10 feet or closer.
"We're good in spots," Horn said. "I've seen some really good things. Not so good in other spots."
Horn was very pleased with how his team has come ready to play each night, not waiting for the game to come to them. That was an imperative point for success this year, since the Gamecocks are experienced but thin, with only nine players available for the third straight game.
But they've got to make it a complete game. They've got to finish, which they did against Winthrop and not against Jacksonville State or USC Upstate.
Gardner-Webb is used to being around for close finishes -- besides the four-point loss to the Sooners, the Bulldogs lost 65-62 to Virginia Tech and 85-84 to Longwood. Those close losses will turn into close wins sometime, and Horn would rather it not be tonight.
"If you get lulled into playing their game, that's what we've got to be careful about," Horn said. "I think we're emphasizing the main things we want to do well every night, every game. Depending on who you're playing and the game plan, there will be some things that become more important."