SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (3-1) at WESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS (3-2) When: 7 p.m. today Where: E.A. Diddle Arena, Bowling Green, Ky. TV: Hilltopper Sports Satellite Network (DirecTV Channel 617; Fox College Sports) Tickets: Available at the box office South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 Fr. (12.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg); G Brian Richardson 6-4 Fr. (8.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg); F Lakeem Jackson 6-5 So. (9.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Jr. (9.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg); C Sam Muldrow 6-9 Sr. (8.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg) Western Kentucky's probable starters: G Jamal Crook 6-3 So. (2.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg); G Brandon Peters 6-1 Fr. (5.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg); F Sergio Kerusch 6-5 Sr. (13.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg); F Steffphon Pettigrew 6-5 Sr. (16.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg); F Juan Pattillo 6-6 Sr. (15.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg) Notes: South Carolina heads back on the road after two home wins, then will return to Columbia for three straight games. ... Darrin Horn returns to his alma mater and coaching stop before he came to USC. ... The Gamecocks lead the series 5-1, including a win last year and a win to open the 2006 NIT. ... USC has attempted 80 3-pointers in its last three games, which represents 40 percent of attempted field goals. ... The Gamecocks continue to lead the SEC with a +12 rebounding margin after finishing last in the league in 2009-10. ... Director of Player Development Cypheus Bunton also returns to his alma mater and a program where he assisted Horn from 2004-08. ... Assistant coach Neill Berry was a WKU assistant from 2007-08. ... The first of two straight games for the Hilltoppers against SEC teams. WKU travels to Vanderbilt on Wednesday. Next game: South Carolina hosts Delaware State at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
He answered with no hesitation.
"Absolutely, it'll be easy for me to keep that out of it," South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said earlier this week.
The question had to be asked. It's not every day a coach gets to face not only his former coaching stop, but his alma mater, with his current team. Some even asked Horn at the beginning of preseason practice and before the previous game, despite there being several dozen practices and/or games before tonight, about his feelings for tonight's opponent.
Western Kentucky. Previous stop of Horn, where he led the Hilltoppers to four seasons of at least 22 wins in five years. Alma mater of Horn, where he was a sophomore guard on a 1993 Sweet 16 team and became the only player in WKU history to score the first points of the season in every year of his career.
Emotional and excited to be going back?
"That has nothing to do with the game (tonight) in terms of our preparation or us having an opportunity to win," Horn replied.
Horn spoke solely about the mentality the Gamecocks (3-1) need to have when previewing the game, casting aside his personal history with the opponent. His players backed him up, saying Horn had placed no emphasis on beating WKU to them; he simply wanted to win, because it's a game on the schedule, and pointed out how tough it would be to do it.
"He's talked about them having like an 80 percent winning percentage at their home place," sophomore forward Lakeem Jackson said, "so we're going to work hard and go in there and win."
"Anytime you go back to your home, you want to obviously win the home game," said sophomore guard Ramon Galloway, playing a bit of devil's advocate. "We'll go in there and do the same thing we do every day. Preach about being a 40-minute team and defense and rebounding."
It's the second game in a four-year deal between the two teams, a contracted series when Horn left WKU to come to USC. Horn was asked the same thing last year, facing his old team despite it being played in Columbia, and answered in much the same way.
Then the Gamecocks went out and smoked the Hilltoppers 74-56.
He and his team are hoping for a repeat this year. USC has a brutal road schedule, having already lost its first and only away game of the year to No. 2 Michigan State, and wants to prove it can win on the road against a quality opponent.
WKU (3-2) is a curious team so far, walloping St. Joseph's on the road and hammering Alabama A&M at home. Then it went to Puerto Rico for a tournament and went 1-2, losing to Minnesota (which also beat North Carolina) and Davidson but winning over Hofstra.
"They're undersized but they're athletic. All those guys can play on the perimeter and put it on the floor," Horn said. "They're capable of huge scoring nights."
Matchup-wise, it seems to be how well USC can handle the Hilltoppers' frontcourt. WKU has three forwards each averaging over 13 points per game, and the Gamecocks' post game has been sputtering. Jackson and Malik Cooke can switch in and out from the blocks, but are much more comfortable on the wings, leaving Sam Muldrow to handle the paint.
Muldrow started the season strong, with 20 points against Elon, but has scored a combined 15 in the three games since. Horn has said that Muldrow needs to be more aggressive and demand the ball on the block, which would take the go-to scoring pressure off freshmen Bruce Ellington and Brian Richardson.
The Gamecocks are flashing hot and cold on offense, Horn saying it's a product of stressing and learning defense to his team first and then worrying about scoring. USC has done well, holding USC Upstate to 25.9 percent shooting in its last game and winning the rebounding total in every game, but has gone through long stretches of not being able to find the hole.
WKU is very capable of hitting a hot streak in scoring, relying on many of the same things that Horn has brought to the Gamecocks -- up-tempo offense and pressure defense. USC needs to post a solid start to this five-game stretch -- after WKU are home games against Delaware State, Clemson and Wofford, then two road games at No. 3 Ohio State and Furman.
WKU has won a home game over 80 percent of the time. Horn is 7-16 on the road at USC.
"We know that it's a tough place to play. It has been for 50 years," Horn said. "It's exactly the kind of challenge that we need right now with our team. We went on the road once, to a very difficult place, came home and got better at some things that we needed to get better at, namely defending and rebounding. Now we need to go back on the road and be tested again, and it's going to be a very difficult and challenging test."