COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's basketball team doesn't play again until Saturday. With certainty, Devan Downey's earned the respite.

Downey played some of the best basketball on the planet in the month of January, closing the stretch with performances against Kentucky and Georgia -- both Gamecocks wins -- that netted him the Southeastern Conference's Player of the Week honor Monday.

It's just silly what the 5-9 fifth-year senior point guard has been doing. Silly.

He's averaging 31.6 points a game in his team's seven SEC games. Next on that list is Arkansas guard Courtney Fortson, at 20.4 a game.

That's not too shabby, but Downey has lapped the field for the first half of the conference season.

Coach Darrin Horn said it's one of the best stretches he's ever seen a player have, on his team or any other.

"Oh, no doubt," said Horn, in his second year at USC. "To some degree, the numbers don't lie. We tell our players they don't tell the whole story, but they tell a lot of it.

"It's hard to argue with his numbers."

As Horn would tell you, it's not all about numbers. It's about when -- and how -- he's getting those numbers.

Downey's flair for the dramatic and daringly difficult is what has elevated his name in national circles.

Nothing did it more, of course, than South Carolina's upset a week ago of then-No. 1 Kentucky. It was the program's first victory, in 101 years of playing basketball, against a No. 1 team.

The game was on ESPN. The country saw what Downey could do (and has done before), slicing through Kentucky defenders and making improbable shots to slap his team on his back and will it to victory.

Downey was sensational, going for 30 points that included an all-by-himself seven-point spurt that crippled Kentucky.

Saturday, with Georgia joining the rest of the free world in understanding that Downey would try to score a bunch of points, the little man was still able to have a giant impact.

Downey had 33 points, making 12 of 20 shots (including 4 of 7 3-pointers) and all five free throws.

"He's had a tremendous focus in everything he's done," Horn said. "That's carrying over into the games and it's leading to consistent performances throughout."

Horn doesn't go overboard in his praise for Downey, although you know there's deep-rooted pride in what's happening. No, Horn has come to expect this from Downey -- expecting, while appreciating.

What Horn likes is that Downey, even at his size, can be self-sufficient when he needs to be in those crucial possessions.

Meaning, many other players -- high-scoring players -- lean heavily on others around them to sustain their level of play. They need someone to pass it to them. They need someone to draw the defense. They need someone to be a second scorer.

To use a baseball analogy, it's like a power hitter needing protection in the lineup to see better pitches. Downey's currently playing without a safety net, making it all the more impressive.

A major injury (Dominique Archie) and a major dismissal (Mike Holmes) have left Downey to take on even more than the gigantic role he held before.

The lineup consists now of veterans striving to reach their career potential, of solid-but-not-outstanding role players, of freshmen still getting their feet damp and of an 11-points-a-game off guard who was the SEC's top reserve last season.

And, still, Downey is able to do two things that are incredibly difficult to do, given those seemingly limiting circumstances.

"It's his ability to get a shot and then make them," Horn said. "It's those two things: Can you get your shot and can you make enough of them?"

Horn credited Downey, too, with being more discerning in understanding when to pull the trigger. He's still going to put up a couple of bad shots a game, but most of his shots are appropriate.

Some pundits tried to offset Downey's Kentucky game by saying he was 9 for 29 (31 percent) from the field.

But Downey has hit 43 percent of his shots this season, and he's made 73 of 160 shots (46 percent) in those seven SEC games. That's a lot of shots -- and a good number of made shots.

Further, he's made 25 of his 55 3-point tries (45 percent) in SEC play. And he's made 40 of 44 free throws in the past five SEC games, including 10 of 11 in that poor-shooting Kentucky game.

He's doing those things during the toughest portion of the schedule. It's not as if the Gamecocks have gone through the cream puffs of the SEC, already playing at Mississippi and Florida and Kentucky at home.

Yet Downey is still sticking just above that 30-a-game mark.

"He never takes a shot that I don't think is going in," Horn said.

Downey even admitted last week that this is probably the best he's ever played. But he said he's not satisfied because the team still has goals on the table.

If the undermanned Gamecocks even sniff them, Downey should be a legitimate contender for the SEC's player of the year. That should be the case even if Kentucky and John Wall finish 15-1 in the league, with Downey and the Gamecocks as the Wildcats' only blemish.

Downey was left off the midseason list for national player of the year. Some wondered whether that was a slight, but it probably had more to do with the team's so-so 9-5 non-conference record than Downey's performance. Clearly, though, Downey had more in the tank.

With his efforts in January, he's re-established himself as a contender for conference and national accolades. ESPN.com's Andy Katz recognized Downey on Saturday night as one of four players that had All-America moments.

A paralyzing thought is imagining what the Gamecocks (13-8, 4-3 SEC) would be without Downey, if he'd chosen to play as a professional overseas instead of returning for a fifth year.

But No. 2 is still in garnet. As Horn said after that Kentucky win, that means the Gamecocks have got a chance.

Looking for a third consecutive SEC victory, the team travels to play Tennessee on Saturday.

Reach Travis Haney at thaney@postandcourier.com, check out the Gamecocks' blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/gamecocks and follow him on Twitter (@gamecocksblog).