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December 23, 2008PRESBYTERIAN BLUE HOSE (5-6)
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (8-1)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets:Available at the box office
Presbyterian's probable starters: G Pierre Miller 5-10 G (6.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Josh Johnson 6-3 So. (10.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg); G Chase Holmes 6-4 Fr. (5.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg); C Al'Lonzo Coleman 6-7 So. (16.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg); F Travis Sligh 6-4 Sr. (2.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 Jr. (19.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Sr. (15.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg); F Evka Baniulis 6-7 Jr. (10.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg); F Dominique Archie 6-7 Jr. (10.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg); F/C Mike Holmes 6-7 So. (12.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina leads the series 29-8 but has not played Presbyterian since the 1946-47 season. ... USC is 7-0 at Colonial Life Arena this season, winning every game by an average of over 22.5 points. ... The Gamecocks remain short-handed with only nine players available. Guard Branden Conrad is out indefinitely with a fractured right foot and forward Sam Muldrow has yet to play because of academics and a sprained left elbow. ... The Blue Hose are without senior Brandon Bostic due to injury. ... Sligh is a Columbia native, coming out of Keenan High School. ... Holmes posted his third double-double of the season in his last game He also had four of the team's five blocks in the win over The Citadel, despite not starting. ... The Gamecocks are the only team in the SEC to have five players averaging in double figures.
Next game: USC takes a break for the holidays before hosting No. 22 Clemson on Dec. 30.
A 14-point win in the last game, All-American performances from two players and an 8-1 record heading into the holiday break would be pleasing to most coaches.
Most coaches are not South Carolina's Darrin Horn.
"We're going to need to come out much better than we did on Saturday in trying to establish tempo," Horn said on Monday, previewing tonight's game hosting Presbyterian (5-6). "Obviously we've addressed it. Showing them what it looks like when it's good and when it's not so good."
When it wasn't was the first 10 minutes of USC's 80-66 win over The Citadel three nights ago. For the first time all year, the Gamecocks (8-1) began terribly.
Missed shots. Defensive lapses. Lazy passing. Carelessness, sloppiness.
Even though USC picked it up in the second half, and Mike Holmes and Brandis Raley-Ross had great nights, Horn was more concerned about the lack of concentration that led to an 11-0 deficit at the game's beginning. Some players got credit, yes, but perhaps not as much as they were due.
"First time we haven't come out as good as we can," he said, three days after. "But we didn't stay that way."
The Gamecocks improved their rotten shooting percentage, got double figures from six of their nine available players and a much-improved defensive effort against the Bulldogs, although they still lost the rebounding battle 34-33. Holmes had his third double-double of the season (14 points and 11 rebounds) and blocked four of the team's five shots (including two on poor The Citadel forward Matt Roberts) and Raley-Ross returned to form with 12 points, all in the second half.
Still, Horn wasn't pleased. Instead of praising the superlatives, Horn criticized the lack of focus that put the Gamecocks in a hole at the beginning of the game.
His players followed his lead.
"I think I did a poor job as a leader," said point guard Devan Downey, despite his team-high 17 points. "I know the team feeds on me so I got to do a better job of coming out and ready to play from the tip."
Downey spoke factually -- he shot a wretched 5-of-15 from the floor and had one of his patented twist-into-the-lane, loft-it-over-the-D shots shoved right back in his face.
Still, he picked it up in the second half and the team did as well, tightening up the defense and refusing to let the absence of guard Branden Conrad -- out indefinitely with a fractured right foot -- hinder it.
Conrad remains out as does forward Sam Muldrow, but Raley-Ross seems to be rapidly improving. Held out six games with a sprained left knee, Raley-Ross may not start tonight but is a vital piece of the Gamecocks' game plan after turning it on during the second half against The Citadel.
"He was much better in the flow and more comfortable," Horn said. "We want to come out and we want to play well. We just want to feel good about our effort and our focus and doing the things that are important to us well."
USC will break for the holidays immediately after tonight's game, but has to come back ready to work. A match with No. 22 (and undefeated) Clemson looms on Dec. 30 and the non-conference season's third road game, at No. 21 Baylor, is on Jan. 2.
But all after tonight. A win tonight equals a very merry Christmas.
Even for Horn. Not only is it Christmas, but he celebrates his 36th birthday on Christmas Eve.
"They've done a good job of focusing," he said. "We've been pretty good about that."