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January 22, 2009

Gamecocks' readiness set up last play

Sometimes, you just have to be lucky rather than good.

South Carolina beat Florida because it set up its own luck, got a bounce and made something happen.

"When you get in that situation, it's rare that you're going to have something be perfect," coach Darrin Horn said after the Gamecocks' thrilling 70-69 win over No. 24 Florida on Wednesday. "Actually, I think Mike (Holmes) grabbed Zam (Fredrick) and said, 'Hey, if I get it, take off long.'"

The play -- and what a play! -- has been broadcast across the airwaves throughout Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Fredrick taking a beautiful baseball pass from Holmes and never breaking stride past Dan Werner for the winning layup. It was voted ESPNews Highlight of the Night, checked in at No. 2 on "SportsCenter"'s Top 10 plays and got Fredrick a guest spot on ESPN2's "First Take" on Thursday.

Holmes said he nodded at Fredrick and told him to run, whether or not Florida's Chandler Parsons made or missed his free throws. Fredrick took off as soon as he saw Parsons' first ball glance off the rim.

That's where the wee bit of luck came in.

That ball bounces long off the rim and into the air, and it's doubtful Holmes could have gotten it. As it was, Holmes leaped, caught the ball and was already looking at Fredrick on the way down.

Holmes' boats hit the floor, he immediately launched the pass and well, the rest is one of the brightest spots to hit USC basketball in quite a while. Fredrick was swarmed by his teammates and fans -- including injured guard Branden Conrad, who shed his crutches and crazily one-hopped himself over for a hug -- and departed for his hero's accolades.

Then the analysis popped up and USC had even more of a reason to feel good.

Before the last play, USC had cut a five-point deficit to one in just over 30 seconds. The Gamecocks forced 18 turnovers and never fell behind by more than seven points.

Horn preached about starting the game strongly after first-half lapses at LSU and Tennessee became losses. USC accomplished it and even when Florida had the lead for most of the second half, the Gamecocks kept finding key answers.

"It shows us what we can do," guard Devan Downey gushed. "We kept on telling each other, 'It's not over.' Told them to keep believing, and that's what we did."

Sam Muldrow, a starter over Brandis Raley-Ross after Horn wanted to get more length on the floor to try and hamper Florida's rangy lineup, scored eight points with six rebounds, three blocks and a steal. Evka Baniulis, who was devolving into just a 3-point specialist, hauled a rebound out of traffic (part of six boards), had two assists, a steal and 12 points, the last three coming on his familiar toss from the arc that cut the Gators' lead to 62-60.

The total performance kept the Gamecocks around, kept putting fresh chances in front of them. Then when they finally got a tiny bit of luck, the preparedness paid off.

"I just wanted to make that free throw so bad to send it to overtime, but when we missed it, I looked in the crowd and saw everyone pulling coats on and getting ready to leave," Fredrick said. "Just a chance at redemption. I knew we was going to have a chance to win it or at least tie."

USC is where it wanted to be -- back to .500 in league play with a struggling Ole Miss team coming to Columbia on Saturday. Horn was already warning about the potential trap nature of the game and said he planned to address the immediate flushing of the Florida joy at practice on Thursday.

His players followed his lead. The win was great but there are still 12 games to go, and one win won't get the Gamecocks where they want to be.

More work, more preparing, more concentration. A little more luck may fall in place, too, but if not, USC will at least be ready to accept it.



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