GEORGIA BULLDOGS (12-12, 3-7 SEC)
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (9-15, 1-9)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
Georgia's probable starters: G Dustin Ware 5-11 Sr. (8.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg); G Gerald Robinson Jr. 6-1 Sr. (14.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg); G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 6-5 Fr. (14.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg); F Marcus Thornton 6-7 So. (2.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg); F Donte Williams 6-9 So. (7.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 So. (10.6 ppg, 1.9 rpg); G Damien Leonard 6-4 Fr. (6.8 ppg, 1.2 rpg); F R.J. Slawson 6-8 So. (5.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Sr. (12.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg); C Damontre Harris 6-9 So. (6.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina begins a stretch of four home games among the next five. … Georgia leads the overall series 49-47 and has won the last three. … Slawson should start his third straight game in place of Anthony Gill. … Cooke reunites with his former coach, Mark Fox, who coached him when the two were at Nevada. … USC has lost five straight, its longest streak of the season. The longest streak under coach Darrin Horn was six straight in 2009-10. … The Gamecocks are two games behind Georgia in last place in the SEC and play the Bulldogs again to close the regular season. … The Bulldogs have given up the least amount of turnovers per game in the SEC. … Cooke is 29 points away from 1,000 for his career, including two years at Nevada. … Ellington is averaging four assists per game over his last five.
Next game: South Carolina hosts LSU at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
VIDEO: Darrin Horn
"I think it's a game where, no question, we need a win," coach Darrin Horn said.
Horn and his team have been adamant throughout a 1-9 skid that they are not losing faith and confidence. While it is frustrating, some players have said, to work so hard in practice only to see another "L" hit in the next game, they realize that they're doing just enough to cause that "L."
For instance, in their past two games, the Gamecocks (9-15, 1-9 SEC) have come out on the offensive, taking Tennessee and Arkansas to school and getting their offense in gear. In each game, a breakdown in defense and inability to hit a shot or even get a shot off in the last five minutes of the first half has caused a double-digit halftime deficit.
It was too much to overcome at Tennessee, although USC cut the lead to three points late. It was too much to overcome at Arkansas, although a sizzling 16-0 run sliced very heavily into the Razorbacks' advantage.
"Everybody knows that we have the pieces to get a win," sophomore center Damontre Harris said, "but there are no easy games in the SEC. We just have to keep fighting."
The pieces are there, but aren't coming together to produce a win. USC has already assured itself of its third straight losing SEC season, and has to win out just to claim a .500 regular season.
But the season isn't over. And with two of the other bottom-four teams in the league coming to Columbia this week, beginning with Georgia (12-12, 3-7) tonight, the Gamecocks see this as an opportunity.
"At some point, there has to be a mindset on their part that all of their hard work will pay off," Horn said. (The 16-0 run at Arkansas), that's great, but at some point, you don't allow some of those things that are hurting you. At some point, you've got to eliminate that stuff."
What those things are are turnovers (five straight turned into points that let the Hogs leap and stay ahead), non-communication on Horn's help-switch defense (which enabled four straight 3-pointers for the Volunteers) and not making shots (see: every game this season). USC has had players such as Harris and Damien Leonard improve lately, but the guys who were doing well (Bruce Ellington, Anthony Gill and Malik Cooke) are not playing up to their former status.
With Georgia, USC sees what it hoped to be this year. The Bulldogs were coming off an NCAA tournament season and had lost their two best players, Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. A struggle was expected, especially with freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope a McDonald's All-American but still a freshman with not much help around him.
The Bulldogs could afford to be patient, with a team stocked with youth and inexperience, and it has paid off. Georgia's best bet for the postseason remains the NIT, but the Bulldogs have steadily improved.
After losing four straight games, Georgia blasted Arkansas 81-59 and then topped then-No. 20 Mississippi State in overtime. With USC next on the slate, then a home game against hot-and-cold Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs see a mini-run coming together.
They are what USC could be, but time is running out for USC to begin the process. The Gamecocks have had some individual improvements, but the wins have been hard to come by. Like Georgia, USC has a great chance to put together an end-of-season winning streak, but it has to begin now.
"Yeah, it's frustrating," Ellington said. "But last year, everybody got down when we were losing. This year, thanks to Malik Cooke's leadership, we're staying up. We just have to keep moving forward, and keep trying."
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