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November 22, 2010

USC Hoops Notebook

Darrin Horn is reveling in the luxury.

"It's great to have a bench," South Carolina's coach said after an 85-56 win over Radford last week. "I'm really enjoying that, I don't know if everybody else is. I'm saving my voice. I don't have to scream and holler so much, I can just take them out. For some reason, the bench speaks much more loudly than a coach does."

With more depth and versatility than he's ever had with the Gamecocks, Horn has been learning what each of his players can do through the first three games. He's also gained another invaluable tool - if he's unhappy with the five on the floor, he can go to the next five.

That's what he did against the Highlanders, when USC, with a 30-point halftime lead, gave up the first four points of the second. At the first media timeout, out came Bruce Ellington, Brian Richardson, Malik Cooke, Lakeem Jackson and Sam Muldrow; in came Eric Smith, Ramon Galloway, Stephen Spinella, Damontre Harris and R.J. Slawson.

Galloway and Smith each hit a 3-pointer, Slawson dunked off a beautiful penetration and then a flip-pass back from Harris, and the Gamecocks were once again off to the races.

USC was able to play every eligible man on the roster (Carlton Geathers is on the list for a redshirt) and all scored at least two baskets. All had at least two rebounds as well.

The only problem was deciding who would play and who wouldn't, although Horn joked that it would never be a case of hearing players needle him to go into the game.

"We don't negotiate playing time," he said, drawing laughs. "Playing time's not a democracy. I don't know if it will look quite this balanced every night. Hopefully we'll have a lot of nights where we can balance it out like this."

LET ME SPIN: The basket looks as wide as the Atlantic Ocean for Spinella these days. He's had back-to-back career-highs in points in two games.

"Coach keeps telling me to be a player and stop being just a shooter," Spinella said, after scoring a game-high 15 points. "That's what I've been focusing on. With that, the shots are going to come and stuff's going to fall into place for me."

During his freshman year, Spinella always seemed too hesitant or too nervous when he would line up to shoot. Perhaps it was part of the reason why the highly regarded shooting specialist only scored 39 points.

Now, Spinella doesn't seem nervous when shooting. He concentrates on defense first and then sets up for the shot.

There was no hesitation from him at all against Radford, receiving the passes in the corner and letting fly. The last two featured Spinella's tongue sticking out as the shots bottomed, before he acknowledged Smith for getting him the ball, and the final had him backtracking downcourt with three fingers held up on each hand.

Only problem was the shot, after review, only counted two points. Spinella's foot was on the line.

"It's giving me a little confidence," Spinella said. "That's about it. It's just transferring over to the games now."

BEND THE KNEES, ARC THE WRIST ...: The Gamecocks are still running hot and cold from the free-throw line. When things are going well, the shots fall. When they're not, they don't.

USC hit three of its first four against Radford, then bricked three straight front ends of 1-and-1s. Smith missed the first of two shots before he made the second, and then missed one of two after Muldrow and Cooke had made three straight between them.

The team hit a respectable 16-of-23 (69.6 percent) for the game but the bright side was Jackson, who aced all four of his attempts. The sophomore, who, to put it kindly, struggled from the line last year, had seemed to revert to form against Michigan State after a good showing against Elon. His attempts against the Spartans were thrown up with no touch whatsoever.

Against Radford, Jackson re-discovered his soft shot. The attempts were consistent and all swished through.

LET'S GROOVE TONIGHT: As the second half dawned with a 30-point lead, Galloway began bobbing his shoulders on the bench, in time to the PA's choice of music. After a few seconds and some prodding, Spinella joined in, although Slawson gave Galloway a questioning look and kept himself still.

HOW'D HE DO THAT? Horn keep stressing that he loves his team's athleticism, and it was on display against Radford. As a loose ball headed out-of-bounds toward the USC band, Richardson chased, corralled and blindly flipped it over his shoulder as he tumbled to the floor. Ellington was there to receive, running right into the ball's path, cutting a U-turn and heading back up the floor.

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