December 11, 2010

USC Re-Enters Season Against Wofford


When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
TV: None
Tickets: Available at the box office
Wofford's probable starters: G Brad Loesing 6-0 Jr. (7.2 ppg, 0.8 rpg); G Cameron Rundles 6-1 Sr. (13.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg); G Jamar Diggs 6-2 Sr. (13.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg); F Tim Johnson 6-6 Sr. (6.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg); F Noah Dahlman 6-6 Sr. (19.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 Fr. (12.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg); G Brian Richardson 6-4 Fr. (9.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg); F Lakeem Jackson 6-5 So. (9.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Jr. (9.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg); C Sam Muldrow 6-9 Sr. (8.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina plays its first game since Dec. 5 after taking off for exams. ... The Gamecocks lead the series 40-19, but lost the last game (68-61 last season), which snapped a 21-game series winning streak. ... Wofford has already begun Southern Conference play and is 2-0, coming off a 75-69 win over Elon on Dec. 4. The Gamecocks whipped the Phoenix 94-79 in their season-opener. ... USC assistant coach Mike Boynton was a Wofford assistant from 2007-08. ... Wofford has an eclectic roster, boasting three players from Minnesota, two from Ohio and one from Lithuania. ... Dahlman is the reigning SoCon Player of the Week.
Next game: South Carolina tips off at No. 2 Ohio State at 2 p.m. on Dec. 18.

It was a lot of bad timing at once.

South Carolina had not done it in 70 years, which spanned 21 games in the series. It turned out a preview of things to come, when the opponent advanced to its first NCAA tournament three months later. It happened five days after Darrin Horn had been rewarded for his successful first season with a contract extension. The Gamecocks were playing without two starters.

None of the excuses made it any easier -- nearly one full year ago, Wofford beat USC 68-61.

"I haven't watched last year's game," Horn said on Friday. "Haven't thought about it, haven't talked about it. Totally different team, totally different situation."

Hard to blame him.

In hindsight, after the Terriers stormed through the Southern Conference and reached the NCAAs while the Gamecocks struggled to survive, it didn't seem so bad. That didn't make the three months leading up to Wofford's advancement any easier; like many of the smaller in-state schools, it's on the schedule for a reason, and beating the scheduler isn't it.

There is no revenge buzzword for the rematch, set for 7 p.m. today, because as Horn said, most of the guys on this year's USC team weren't on last year's team (or weren't playing). The Gamecocks (6-1) know what happened last year, and want to avoid it happening again, but not because they feel the need to take up the spear for their past brothers.

No, beating Wofford could play into a much more lofty ambition.

"The BCS schools, so to speak, are the ones that stand out and fans gravitate to, but when you start looking at that sheet at the end of the year that's going to be in the room that the committee has, I think it's games like we have (tonight) that are games that you have to have and are crucial to doing well," Horn said. "They're a veteran team, an NCAA tournament team, they were picked to win their league by most everybody."

Wofford has already begun the biggest part of its season, opening the Southern Conference slate with two wins, after a rough part of the early year. The Terriers (4-5), knowing they had four returning starters from last year, including SoCon Player of the Year Noah Dahlman, were aggressive in their scheduling.

Wofford lost at Minnesota and at Clemson (which USC beat in Columbia), then traveled to Charleston for a three-game tournament. There, the Terriers lost to a powerful Georgetown team, lost in overtime to a solid Air Force team and beat USC Upstate (which USC also beat in Columbia).

Wofford also traveled to Xavier, where it finally succumbed in triple overtime. Otherwise, it beat George Mason in overtime in Charleston, beat UNC Greensboro and won at Elon (which USC beat in Columbia).

Dahlman has continued his hard play, and is serving as an example of sorts to the Gamecocks. Horn and his staff have pointed out how steady the big man is as an illustration of what their players can be.

"He's not the most talented, he's not the biggest, he's not the strongest or most athletic, he just goes out and he out-works people to get what he gets," Horn said. "We've challenged our guys. Here's a guy that's getting the job done because he out-works people."

USC is coming off a six-day break for exams, where practices were less frequent and less time-consuming, coaches having to settle for what they could get. Horn said it's always a "pins and needles" time for a coach, trying to figure out what he's going to get once the team returns, and scheduling Wofford first after the break perhaps wasn't the best idea.

"I think when you talk about building a really challenging schedule that prepares you for league play, that can get you some of those games that opens people's eyes," Horn said. "As we talked about with our team and our program, we're in a place where every game presents a different test for various reasons. They're going to come in here ready to play."

NOTES: Horn said the team is "doing great" academically. ... Horn doesn't comment on schedules until they are released, but a team spokesperson confirmed that USC will play in the Las Vegas Classic next season. The Classic will also feature UNLV, North Carolina and Southern Cal among its "name" schools.

USC-Clemson Game Week sponsored by Mallard Orchard Hunt Club

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