COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's basketball team arrived home around 2 a.m. Friday after Thursday's 9 p.m. game at Florida, the Southeastern Conference's second-best team. The Gamecocks knew they would have little time to prepare for the league's best team, top-ranked Kentucky, which plays at USC at 6 p.m. today.
But the short turnaround itself wasn't a major concern.
"Everybody takes pretty good care of their bodies, so it shouldn't be a problem," said senior forward and leading scorer Malik Cooke.
A bigger worry for the Gamecocks is the approach they will take against Kentucky. The Wildcats are athletic enough that you don't want to run up and down the court against them, especially playing on limited rest. But their lineup is so long that playing half-court offense against them is just as much of a challenge.
"The more we have to go against their set defense, which would seem to be a slower tempo, probably the harder it's going to be for us," said USC coach Darrin Horn. "I think we need to find a way to get a few easy ones, too, when we can in transition and on the offensive glass."
In the 74-66 loss at No. 12 Florida, the Gamecocks shot 44.6 percent, their best in SEC play this season. USC must have efficient possessions today and avoid taking bad shots.
"They run great when you turn the ball over," Horn said. "You get a bad shot, and they're gone."
Today concludes USC's brutal first half of its SEC schedule. When the Gamecocks play their eighth league game today, they will have played Kentucky twice, Florida twice and
Vanderbilt (the SEC's third- or fourth-best team) once.
And while they enter today with a 1-6 league record, they showed potential in their past three games, with a two-point win over Alabama and a four-point loss at Mississippi coming before the Florida loss. They trailed Ole Miss by one point with 48 seconds left, but Cooke missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw trip. Florida led by 17 with 9:55 left in the first half, but USC rallied and cut the margin to five with 2:51 remaining in the game.
The Gamecocks continue to get excellent performances from sophomore center Damontre Harris, who had 12 points, nine rebounds, six blocks and three steals at Florida. In SEC games, he is averaging 9.4 points and 5.9 rebounds, third and first on the team. Horn said Harris was "phenomenal" at Florida. Horn loved how Harris demonstrated "perfect spacing" on a jump shot he knocked down, and marveled when Harris stole the ball with 1:15 left, took it between his legs and flipped it left-handed to guard Brenton Williams.
"I think his consistency has been as good as anybody that we've had," Horn said.
But victories continue to elude the Gamecocks as they end the first part of their league schedule with their only Thursday-Saturday turnaround of the season.
It doesn't get much easier for them after today. Their games next week are Wednesday against Tennessee and Saturday against Arkansas. Neither is one of the four SEC teams who are ranked, but both games are on the road.
"We're definitely gaining confidence, seeing that we can play with anybody and be right there at the end of games," Cooke said. "I think it's going to turn around soon for us."