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November 20, 2008South Carolina is 2-0, each win coming over an opponent that it was expected to beat.
The Gamecocks are confident but not boastful.
"I hope we're not too sky-high about anything," coach Darrin Horn said on Wednesday. "We're two games in. We've got to come back today and be better. We need to focus on Wednesday's practice.
"That's an attitude we have to take now, tomorrow, next week, a month after that, all the way through the season."
After beating Jacksonville State and Winthrop in a span of three days last weekend, the Gamecocks got a break before their next game. USC Upstate comes to Columbia on Saturday, so USC got a chance to look at its first two games and what worked well and not so well.
"I think we played pretty good defense," guard Zam Fredrick said, ticking off the highlights. "We forced opponents into bad shooting percentage. We've got to rebound a little bit better. We're shooting it well, we played good defense.
"Lot of effort, lot of energy. And that we can get through adversity. Me and Devan (Downey) being in foul trouble and being short a couple players also."
Against Jacksonville State, USC's problems with depth were immediately revealed. Starting guard Brandis Raley-Ross went down with a sprained knee (he's out 3-to-4 weeks) in the first half and Fredrick and Downey were each on the bench with early foul trouble. The Gamecocks got good production from their big men and stopgap play from backup guards Branden Conrad and Robert Wilder, eventually winning by 13 points.
The Gamecocks enjoyed being 1-0 but realized it came at a price. With Raley-Ross gone for a month and forward Sam Muldrow still on the shelf with academic issues, they were down to nine players. Twenty-five fouls, including Fredrick fouling out and Downey, Conrad and Austin Steed finishing with four each, severely limited what Horn is trying to get his players to do.
"What it's changed is our ability to substitute as freely," Horn said. "We really don't have anybody who's logging that many minutes. That's a good thing, I think.
"Sometimes it's just the flow of the game. The thing that we have to do, especially with guys like Devan, they have to control their flows."
Then against Winthrop, still playing with just nine, USC reversed it.
The Gamecocks only committed 17 fouls and nobody was ever in serious trouble of going to the bench. With their re-energized commitment to defense -- they out-rebounded the Eagles 48-23 (Jacksonville State won that fight 41-37) -- USC was able to build a big lead, sit on it until Winthrop got close, then open it back up with a barrage of 3-pointers.
No one could say if that's the M.O. the Gamecocks will have all year, but it fits with what they must do to be successful. Use their speed to set up the early game, play sticky defense and hopefully enough shots go in to win.
"(Horn) wants us to out-hustle our opponents," forward Mike Holmes said. "Our mentality is every loose ball, we got to get it to be a better team."
USC is set to play USC Upstate with nine players, Horn saying there's been no change in Muldrow's status. Conrad, right now, would start again in place of Raley-Ross but as Horn pointed out, it was still early in the week.
The main goal, he said, was to keep working the rotation so everybody plays but nobody's getting all the minutes. It's not like Horn can just pull an eligible blue-chipper from the bushes in the middle of November, so he'll stick with what he's got.
So far, it's been a solid hand.
"Everybody's got a role to play and some guys' role is to not necessarily be a producer as much as be someone that doesn't make mistakes," Horn said. "We're going to do what we have to do with what we've got. The first couple of games, we've been able to spread those minutes and have guys step up. I think it's a credit to our guys and their work ethic."
RECRUITING: Horn said he was excited about the two players he signed in the early signing period, which ended on Wednesday. Lakeem Jackson and Ramon Galloway committed early in the period and while Horn didn't add any more in the fall, he was ready to stay on the trail for the spring period.
"We're going to continue to recruit," Horn said. "Our big focus is we don't want to sign guys just to sign them. We want to sign guys to help us get better and fill the needs that we have. We're going to continue to look for those guys."
Fredrick said he didn't even know who the Gamecocks had signed but recalled Jackson and Galloway once their names were told to him. The senior said he's impressed with what each can do.
"They're pretty good players, too," Fredrick said. "They played pickup with us right after practice and stuff. I like Ramon. He's going to be able to help us a lot. Lakeem is real athletic, swingman, he can do it all too. He's going to be able to show his athleticism. I like those two."
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