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March 3, 2012
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (10-19, 2-13 SEC)
GEORGIA BULLDOGS (13-16, 4-11)
When: 1:47 p.m. today
Where: Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.
TV: SEC Network
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 So. (11.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg); G Damien Leonard 6-4 Fr. (6.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg); F Anthony Gill 6-8 Fr. (7.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Sr. (12.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg); C Damontre Harris 6-9 So. (7.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
Georgia's probable starters: G Gerald Robinson Jr. 6-1 Sr. (14.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 6-5 Fr. (13.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg); F Marcus Thornton 6-7 So. (3.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg); F Donte Williams 6-9 So. (8.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg); F Nemanja Djurisic 6-8 Fr. (6.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina finishes the regular season. Without a miraculous run through the SEC tournament, the Gamecocks will next take the Colonial Life Arena floor in November. They can only advance to the postseason by winning the SEC tournament. USC must win today to avoid the worst SEC finish in program history. Georgia leads the series 50-47 but USC won the previous matchup. The Gamecocks are locked into the 12th and final seed of the SEC tournament and will play the fifth seed in the first round. Harris is coming off his second double-double of the season. Georgia is 1-4 over its last five games (although the win was over Florida) and is coming off a late tipoff and a loss at Kentucky on Thursday. Georgia will honor seniors Matt Bucklin, Connor Nolte, Dustin Ware and Robinson Jr. before the game.
Next game: South Carolina will begin the SEC tournament at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday against an opponent to be determined.
This will definitely be one of the worst seasons (judging by record) in South Carolina history. Outside of winning the national championship, the Gamecocks will record just the fourth 20-loss season since the program began.
That's an assurance, as is the fact that USC will finish last in the SEC and can't get out of the final seed for the SEC tournament. The Gamecocks only have two assured games remaining in their season, and can only add more by winning games in the SEC tournament, something that has avoided them since coach Darrin Horn took over.
It's not a pleasant feeling at USC, and not many would blame the Gamecocks for wanting to end a bad season as quickly as possible and start preparing for next year. Especially after having a chance at a feel-good win savagely jerked away from them in the span of 1.4 seconds, when Mississippi State's Brian Bryant put in a layup to beat USC in overtime on Wednesday.
But USC has lived on its fighter's mentality all season, and despite the tar-black clouds hanging over the program these days, it won't - can't - give up. There are two games to play, right, with perhaps more?
Fine. Win them both, and win as many others as possible before the next loss. The chance of USC winning four straight in New Orleans next week may be slimmer than the chance of Melissa McCarthy becoming Sports Illustrated's next swimsuit edition cover girl, but that chance is still there.
"We've got a tough group of guys," said senior Malik Cooke, after the Mississippi State game. "We think we can do it."
USC beat Georgia for one of its two wins in league play, Cooke kissing a shot off the glass in the final seconds. The Gamecocks are hoping to spoil an opponent's Senior Day just like they had theirs taken from them.
"I just told them, we've got to find a way to keep fighting," coach Darrin Horn said after the MSU game. "They continue to keep bouncing back."
USC's confidence has eroded, but its fight during the game hasn't. Before the final shot, the Gamecocks answered every time MSU made something happen. Bruce Ellington continues to improve in every game and Damontre Harris had a huge game against the Bulldogs; each hopes to do what they did against another set of Bulldogs.
The season is ending, but is not over. There won't be a great feeling no matter what happens going forward.
But there can be a good one, and that can come from winning. And winning again.
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