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March 1, 2009Zam Fredrick said it after Saturday's loss at Vanderbilt.
"Now it's set up for what you just said," he answered. "If first place is on the line Thursday, then so be it."
Be careful what you wish for.
Fredrick and fellow guard Devan Downey said they would probably watch Sunday's Florida-Tennessee game, being college basketball fans and knowing what the game meant to South Carolina's SEC East title chances. They, along with probably more than a few members of the Gamecocks' fan base, saw the Volunteers win 79-75.
Tennessee improved to 9-5 in the SEC and moved into the Gamecocks' former solely occupied spot. The two are tied for the Eastern lead with two games to play.
So at 7 p.m. on Thursday, ESPN beaming it around the Southeast, comes USC's biggest test yet. Win, or re-cork that champagne for another year.
Gamecocks vs. Volunteers. Winner gets at least a piece of the SEC East title and takes a big step toward securing a first-round bye in the SEC tournament.
Fredrick could have been depressed, considering the Gamecocks had just gotten trounced 96-83 by the Commodores. Instead, as he usually is, Fredrick was calmly confident.
"No pressure on us," he said. "Just play the game that we grew up loving to play."
Thursday's winner gets only a piece of the Eastern title, for now. Each team will have a game left to play (USC at Georgia, Alabama at Tennessee), so the loser can always hope for the winner to lose its last game while it wins, thus splitting the crown.
The division title will be cut among however many teams tie for it -- Kentucky and Florida, each 8-6, aren't out of the race, although they play each other on Saturday. But the real prize is the tournament seeding.
The top two teams in the East get out of the first day of competition at the SEC tournament. USC and Tennessee have the lead on those two spots today, but with Florida and Kentucky lurking just a game behind, the race is still wide-open.
Should Tennessee win on Thursday, the Volunteers will have a season sweep of the Gamecocks to go with their sweep of the Gators. The Wildcats beat UT twice, though, so Kentucky would have that tiebreaker if the Vols lost.
USC swept Kentucky and split with Florida. The Gamecocks had a one-game lead in the division and had their feet on the gas until Saturday, when Vandy sugared the tank.
"Only thing I know is if we would have won this game, we wouldn't have had to worry about any of that," Downey said, shaking his head.
It set up what seemed to be likely anyway. Even if USC would have won, Tennessee could have been playing for first place. The difference is the Gamecocks would have had a bit of wiggle room even with a loss to UT.
Now there's no room for error. For what it's worth, when USC stood to nab first place earlier this year (against Kentucky last week), it did.
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