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March 8, 2012

Gamecocks '12 hoping to channel Georgia '08



2012 SEC TOURNAMENT
Today-Sunday * New Orleans Arena * New Orleans
TODAY
Game 1 -- (8) LSU vs. (9) Arkansas, 1 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 2 -- (5) Alabama vs. (12) South Carolina, 3:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 3 -- (7) Ole Miss vs. (10) Auburn, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 4 -- (6) Mississippi State vs. (11) Georgia, 10 p.m. (SEC Network)
FRIDAY
Game 5 -- Game 1 winner vs. (1) Kentucky, 1 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 6 -- Game 2 winner vs. (4) Florida, 3:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 7 -- Game 3 winner vs. (2) Tennessee, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 8 -- Game 4 winner vs. (3) Vanderbilt, 10 p.m. (SEC Network)
SATURDAY
Game 9 -- Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 1 p.m. (ABC)
Game 10 -- Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
SUNDAY
Championship -- Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 1 p.m. (ABC)

(12) SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (10-20)
vs.
(5) ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (20-10)

What: SEC tournament, first round
When: 3:30 p.m. today
Where: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans
TV: SEC Network
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 So. (11.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg); G Damien Leonard 6-4 Fr. (6.6 ppg, 1.3 rpg); F Anthony Gill 6-8 Fr. (7.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Sr. (12.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg); C Damontre Harris 6-9 So. (6.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
Alabama's probable starters: G Trevor Releford 6-1 So. (12.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G Levi Randolph 6-5 Fr. (6.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G Andrew Steele 6-4 Jr. (7.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg); F Nick Jacobs 6-8 Fr. (6.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg); F JaMychal Green 6-8 Sr. (13.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina is in a win-or-go-home situation for the rest of the season. … If the Gamecocks don't win four games in four days, they will be done for the year. … Alabama represents one of two SEC wins on USC's schedule. … The Crimson Tide continue to play without Tony Mitchell, who was indefinitely suspended mid-season. … Alabama should be in the NCAA tournament but a win or two in New Orleans will clinch it.
Next game: The winner plays (4) Florida at 3:30 p.m. on Friday.

NEW ORLEANS - South Carolina staffers gathered around their locker room before Wednesday's SEC tournament practice session at New Orleans Arena. The question was cut off before it was fully asked.

"Oh yeah, we've just been watching that," one staffer said.

"That" would be the sliver of hope that the Gamecocks have of pulling off a miracle this weekend.

It was only four years ago that Georgia, 13-16 and coming off a 4-12 SEC season, shocked the SEC by winning the SEC tournament and the league's automatic pass to the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs knew that they had to win four games in four days to make a sour season taste sweet; they actually did it one better by winning four games in three days (the "Tornado Tournament" forced the Bulldogs to win twice on Saturday after the Georgia Dome was damaged by a tornado).

Coaches the nation over stress to their teams that all it takes is one hot stretch in March to make the season a success, and the Gamecocks are no different. They can draw on recent history within their own conference to do it, knowing that the members of their team were nearing the beginning of their college careers when it happened and they all probably saw at least a highlight of it.

"I remember seeing it on ESPN," senior Malik Cooke said, before the Gamecocks left Columbia. "That was pretty exciting."

The highlights of that have been a staple of USC's preparation for the tournament, which for it begins at 3:30 p.m. today against fifth-seed Alabama. At 10-20, 12th-seed USC knows that the only way its season isn't over after this weekend is to win four in four - and while that may be a longshot, to win one or two games and at least make folks feel a bit better going into the offseason would be nice.

One win gives coach Darrin Horn his first postseason win in four years at USC, and perhaps quiet some of the rumblings about his job status. It would inject some life into a team that hasn't played very well, but has played competitively and confidently throughout a long losing season.

It would also put the Gamecocks in the quarterfinals against a Florida team that has lost three straight games. And a win there …

Well, it's all about Alabama right now.

"March is the best time of the year," Horn said. "Regardless of how your season has gone, and obviously ours hasn't gone as well as would like for it to in terms of total wins, you get a fresh chance and a chance to start all over."

The Crimson Tide (20-10) seem to be in the NCAA tournament (at least, so Bracketologist Joe Lunardi says) but want to get a win or two to help themselves out. USC (10-20) is in the way, knowing that although it only won two league games this year, Alabama was one of them.

The Gamecocks beat Alabama 56-54 on Jan. 25 when Bruce Ellington drove the lane and got a shot to sink with one second to play. Since then, while the teams have been opposites in terms of wins and losses, the Crimson Tide have gone through a rash of player disciplinary issues while USC has remained clean.

The Tide's top three scorers each missed time as the Tide closed the season, Trevor Releford benched for one game and JaMychal Green out for four. Tony Mitchell won't return this season.

The result was that Alabama had to play "small" a bit more, emphasizing ball-control and shot selection. Nick Jacobs became a player to depend on in the post and Alabama righted itself in time to finish the season with a 4-1 record over its past five games.

Even with Mitchell, the Tide are a team with which the Gamecocks can match up. Each team depends on defense and each team isn't known for scoring (Alabama averages 65.1 points per game, USC 61.5).

Each has a cause as well. USC's is a bit more urgent.

"It's just a great opportunity to that we just get to come here and just start all over and just play," Ellington said. "And hopefully we come out with wins."

Georgia did it four years ago, and Horn had one of his best career moments in 2003 when a Marquette team that he was assistant coach of played in the Final Four just across the street at the Superdome. It's been a long, frustrating season, but beginning today, everybody has the chance to make it either a better season, or erase the sting of a bad one and turn it into good.

The Gamecocks have a mountain to climb. The chance is slim.

But that chance is still there.

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