SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (13-10, 4-6 SEC) at TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (15-10, 5-5) When: 7 p.m. today Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn. TV: CSS Tickets: Available at the box office South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 Fr. (13.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg); G Ramon Galloway 6-2 So. (10.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Jr. (8.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg); F Damontre Harris 6-9 Fr. (3.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg); C Sam Muldrow 6-9 Sr. (10.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg) Tennessee's probable starters: G Melvin Goins 5-11 Sr. (8.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg); G Cameron Tatum 6-6 Jr. (10.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg); F Scotty Hopson 6-7 Jr. (16.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg); F Tobias Harris 6-8 Fr. (14.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg); F John Fields 6-9 Sr. (3.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg) Notes: South Carolina begins a two-game road swing, part of four road games over the final six of the regular season. Each team is on a three-game losing streak. Tennessee and Mississippi State are the only two SEC teams coach Darrin Horn hasn't beaten since coming to USC. He is 0-4 against the Volunteers. USC is on a seven-game losing streak to UT. Cooke is expected to start in place of Lakeem Jackson, who is out for the next three games with a foot injury. Ellington should be OK to play, but Brian Richardson may sub in for Galloway. The Vols have the top-rated strength of schedule in the country. Tobias Harris has seven double-doubles this season, the second-most in the SEC. Next game: South Carolina tips off at No. 22 Kentucky at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Youth has been a theme.
Not an excuse.
"The first time a lot of these guys have really had to handle any adversity," South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said on Tuesday, a day before he was about to take his Gamecocks to Tennessee in search of an elusive win. "You're talking about a bunch of young kids, for the most part, as long as they just tried harder in high school, they were still the best guy on the floor and things went pretty good for them.
"Kind of getting us back to the mentality that we want to play with, that we saw in the second half on Saturday."
Strange that Horn would try to draw motivation from a game that resulted in a loss, the Gamecocks' third straight overall and fourth straight at home? Not at all.
After one of the worst first halves ever against Georgia (and undisputedly the worst-scoring first half since the Gamecocks joined the SEC), the second was a return to what Horn wants to see.
The Gamecocks played loose and comfortable, confident they could make their shots and get the defensive stops. It was the kind of play that has mostly avoided USC since a Jan. 19 win over Arkansas, when the Gamecocks improved to 3-1 in the SEC and all was right with the world.
Since, USC has been severely hindered offensively and its defense hasn't been any prize. The Gamecocks have dropped five of six, Saturday's loss to Georgia coming by four points after USC followed a nine-point first half with one of its best efforts of the season.
Horn wants to see that again, and thinks he can harness that kind of effort. Monday's practice, he said, was one of the best all year and if the Gamecocks can take that, plus remembering what worked in Georgia's second half, perhaps the losing streak can be broken.
Although the Gamecocks have some other obstacles to overcome.
Tonight's opponent, Tennessee, is also on a three-game losing streak after beginning the SEC season 5-2. The Volunteers have had USC's number lately, winning seven straight and becoming one of only two SEC teams that Horn hasn't defeated. Junior Scotty Hopson is one of the league's best scorers and freshman Tobias Harris is a sure all-rookie selection and perhaps an all-conference performer.
Then there's the facts that USC starter Lakeem Jackson, hampered by a bad left foot since helping beat Florida on Jan. 15, won't play tonight or for the next three games, and that leading scorer Bruce Ellington will probably play but will do so with a nasty deep bruise on his left calf. Damontre Harris bumped his knee against Georgia but should be fine to start tonight, but will have to keep himself out of foul trouble against one of the best post players in the league, knowing that there's thin post depth.
"(Jackson) honestly hasn't been himself the last three or four games, and it's hurt us," Horn said. "There's a lot of times that he does stuff that other people get the credit for producing. The guys that come in, can they do it at his level with him being his best? I don't know about that."
The only way for Jackson's ailing foot to heal is to stay off it. He tried to play through the pain but was obviously unable to do many of the things he's used to doing; USC will have to deal without his defensive presence, which cost it dearly the last time it had to, against Auburn.
But hurt or not, young or not, the Gamecocks need a win. Their confidence is not great after three straight losses, but at least the third loss had a very strong second half that came down to a potential game-tying shot with 10 seconds to play.
"We really just want to build on Saturday, what happened in the second half," Horn said. "We really felt like, as a coaching staff, it was the first time in several games our team looked like we wanted it to look. We kind of played with a freedom that is important for us to play with to be our best. We need to take that same kind of mentality and approach on the road against a really good Tennessee team."