SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (10-16, 2-10 SEC) at VANDERBILT COMMODORES (19-8, 8-4) When: 8 p.m. today Where: Memorial Gymnasium, Nashville, Tenn. TV: SEC Network Tickets: Available at the box office South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 So. (10.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg); G Damien Leonard 6-4 Fr. (6.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg); F R.J. Slawson 6-8 So. (5.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Sr. (12.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg); C Damontre Harris 6-9 So. (7.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg) Vanderbilt's probable starters: G John Jenkins 6-4 Jr. (20.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G Brad Tinsley 6-3 Sr. (9.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg); F Jeffery Taylor 6-7 Sr. (17.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg); F Lance Goulbourne 6-8 Sr. (8.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg); C Festus Ezeli 6-11 Sr. (9.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) Notes: South Carolina takes its next-to-last road trip before coming home for two straight games, a stretch of four home games in five dates. Vanderbilt won the first meeting 67-57 on Jan. 10 in Columbia. The Commodores lead the series 25-24 and have won the series 4-3 over the last seven games. Jenkins is the reigning SEC Player of the Week and is trying to become the first player since LSU's Ronnie Henderson in 1995-96 to lead the SEC in scoring for two straight seasons. Jenkins and Taylor are the top two scorers in the SEC. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings is searching for his 11th 20-win season in 19 years of being a head coach (Stallings was at Illinois State before Vanderbilt). USC has already clinched its third straight losing SEC season and is trying to avoid a third straight losing overall season, which would be the program's first since 1993-95 (Note: USC had three straight non-winning seasons from 1998-2001; the 2000-01 team finished 15-15). Next game: South Carolina hosts Tennessee at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
VIDEO: Darrin Horn
Yes, it was a bad call. Yes, it affected South Carolina's chances to beat LSU and have a desired two-game winning streak before going back on the road.
But no, it wasn't the sole reason that the Gamecocks lost.
"I think by all accounts, how guys respond game to game, I think they'll respond really well," coach Darrin Horn said. "I think the reason you see the inconsistency is, we've got guys that need to grow up, and it just can't happen as fast as we would like it to."
LSU was helped to a win over the Gamecocks on Saturday because of a bad call. Brenton Williams took an outlet pass off a steal and raced downcourt, closely pursued by his defender. Whether it was because he knew he had been blocked in that situation before, or whether he knew that he was going to have leap as high as he could, Williams was running a little faster than normal.
Williams dunked and as photo evidence and game replay showed, the momentum from his speed caused his body to swing out as he hung on the rim. It looked like he was trying to protect himself from landing on his back, or on the same knee that he sprained early in the season.
Didn't matter. The officials called a technical foul for hanging on the rim. Horn said that he didn't see the play, and after watching the film and the replay, he took the high road.
"I don't think it matters what I think," Horn said on Tuesday. "I think they called it."
Even if the officials were to later apologize (they didn't) or USC was to send in tape of the call to the league office (it wasn't planning to), the call still stood. LSU hit two free throws after the tech, then got a layup that turned a two-point deficit into six.
The Tigers used the momentum for a 10-2 run as Horn frantically tried to get his troops back in the ballgame. The Gamecocks cut the deficit to four later on, but a put-back after USC blocked a shot, and a turnover-turned-3-pointer, settled it.
And that, not the technical, was what really had Horn upset.
"We've got to play better, period," Horn said then. "We've got to coach better and we've got to play better. That's the thing that we keep coming back to. We've got to do the things that we can do."
Horn knows that his young team is probably not going to out-talent anybody. The Gamecocks have done a fine job of being competitive in most every game this season, but competitive natures need a win or two to make it worthwhile, and the only way USC can do that is to have everybody play to the top of their abilities.
Against LSU, Damontre Harris had four turnovers, three where no defender touched him. Bruce Ellington scored six points but shot 3-of-12. Damien Leonard scored four points and only took five shots. R.J. Slawson, who can be a vacuum cleaner on the glass, pulled down a scant three rebounds.
Not nearly enough. And not nearly enough going forward.
USC has already clinched a third straight losing SEC season, and barring a miraculous run without a loss to the SEC tournament championship game, will finish less than .500 overall for the third straight season. The Gamecocks (10-16, 2-10 SEC) may not want to think about that, but they can add just as well as the next guy and see that the numbers do not favor them, especially when the win that would have to start that streak would be at Vanderbilt tonight.
The Commodores slipped out of the Top 25 but are still playing good basketball. With their most talented team in recent memory, led by the top two scorers in the league in John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor, Vandy is looking to get a late-season run started.
USC hopes to deny that, for at least one day. The Gamecocks know they have to somehow get their defense to contain the electrifying Jenkins, who is attemping to lead the SEC in scoring for the second straight season, and shut down Vandy's other veteran stars.
The Gamecocks won't go into tonight or any game thinking they have more talent than the opponent. But they figure they can keep the game close, then maybe hit a shot at the end to win (as they did against Alabama and Georgia).
"It's going to be a game where we're going to need that game that we've seen a couple of times, but not enough, that everybody comes and has that individual accountability and brings what they can bring to the table," Horn said.
"Players need to do what they can do," Harris said. "(Against LSU), I wasn't as focused as I should have been."