Sans Conrad, USC ready for The Citadel

When: 5 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets:Available at the box office
The Citadel's probable starters: G Zach Urbanus 6-2 So. (7.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Cameron Wells 6-1 So. (15.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg); G/F Tyrell McDowell 6-5 So. (2.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg); G/F Austin Dahn 6-4 So. (8.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg); F/C Demetrius Nelson 6-8 Sr. (12.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 Jr. (20.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Sr. (15.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg); F Evka Baniulis 6-7 Jr. (10.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg); F Dominique Archie 6-7 Jr. (9.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg); F/C Mike Holmes 6-7 So. (12.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina remains in a constant fight against the injury bug, losing starting guard Branden Conrad to a fractured foot and Brandis Raley-Ross still getting back into form after a sprained knee cost him six games. ... This is the 100th meeting between the two schools, with USC holding a 76-23 lead and a 12-game winning streak. ... The Citadel, after a season where it fielded the youngest team in the nation, returns 11 letterwinners. Wells was named Southern Conference Freshman of the Year last season. ... The Gamecocks are coming off a record-setting performance against North Carolina Central, where they forced 34 turnovers. ... USC is second in the SEC in points per game (82.6). ... USC has held its last two opponents to under 50 points.
Next game: USC hosts Presbyterian at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
It was going to be a problem all year. Simple fact -- with only 11 players, if one got hurt, South Carolina was going to have a tough time playing basketball.
But as long as nobody got hurt, it wouldn't be a problem. It was a gamble but a good one to take.
Even the best gambles sometimes crap out.
The Gamecocks are back down to nine players, just one game after they returned to a healthy 10. Guard Branden Conrad who's started the last seven games, fractured his right foot in practice two days ago and is out indefinitely.
Everybody thought, "Maybe the injuries won't happen."
They happened, and there was nothing anybody could do about it. The Gamecocks gambled and lost.
"It is what it is," coach Darrin Horn said, taking a page out of football coach Steve Spurrier's quote book. "In basketball, you're going to have setbacks.
"We've just got to come together, have guys step up their roles and find a way to get through it."
The timing is good and bad. Good because guard Brandis Raley-Ross, whose spot Conrad took in the lineup when Raley-Ross sprained his left knee in the season-opener, returned in USC's last game. He played 13 minutes and didn't seem to be favoring the knee -- he's fine physically but is rusty from the long layoff.
Bad because the Gamecocks really need Raley-Ross to be back on top quickly. The Gamecocks (7-1) are down to Devan Downey, Zam Fredrick and little-used [/db]Robert Wilder[/db] as their guards besides Raley-Ross.
"In reality, nobody cares," Downey said. "Your opponent doesn't care. Don't nobody want to hear the sad story about tired or anything, so the guards got to step it up and get it done, simple as that."
Horn said on Friday he'll start forward Evka Baniulis, the SEC's second leading-scoring sixth man, against The Citadel (5-6) tonight and bring Raley-Ross off the bench. Baniulis has been shooting very well although he's been a defensive liability, but it's a necessity.
The Gamecocks are running out of time to get used to Conrad's absence, with only five non-conference games remaining before SEC play begins on Jan. 10. With forward Sam Muldrow yet to play this year (academics and a sprained left elbow), Horn may have to start checking on remaining eligibility for himself and his assistant coaches before too long.
But that's just the way it has to be. The Gamecocks can either sit around and gripe about the situation, say "woe is me" and give up, or they can try to keep fighting for a great season.
Horn said Conrad's injury doesn't look like a season-ender at this time, but couldn't put a definite timetable on his return because everybody heals differently and it's a broken foot. He said the injury wasn't on a physical play -- on the contrary, Conrad was by himself, working on a "dummy" offensive drill, took a step and came up lame.
There's no speculation on when he could return.
"We're not going to throw a time out there that we really don't know," Horn said. "He's out indefinitely, we think we're going to get him back, it's not going to be anytime soon."
Horn said Conrad is definitely out until USC's two-game swing hosting Clemson (Dec. 30) and traveling to Baylor (Jan. 2) while Muldrow is very doubtful for the same stretch.
Those games aren't for a while. The immediate concern is The Citadel tonight.
The Bulldogs are a young and deep team, one that bonded during a 6-21 campaign last year as a group of wet-behind-the-ears freshmen were bullied into a growing-pains season. They've grown up a bit now and obviously will read about how they're playing a short-manned team.
But the Gamecocks have been short-manned all year. Downey said he was confident the team could handle the latest setback the same way it previously has.
"Just going to go out, be ready to do whatever he tells me to do," Downey said. "If I got to play the whole 40, I'll play the whole 40."