COLUMBIA -- The biggest problem for South Carolina's basketball team is that the Gamecocks are not nearly deep nor experienced enough to win while playing as inconsistently as they have for most of this season. Some teams can get away with it. This one absolutely, positively cannot.
Nobody knows that better than USC coach Darrin Horn, because he'll tell anybody who will listen.
"We've got to put a complete game together," he said. "That's basically the bottom line. Until we do that, it's going to be tough to be good."
The Gamecocks (2-5) have lost three straight games entering today's trip to Clemson. They played well at times in all three losses (then-No. 1 North Carolina, Southern California and Thursday night at home against Providence), but something important was missing each time.
What makes today's game intriguing -- though certainly not the most hotly anticipated showdown in this rivalry's history -- is that Clemson (4-2) has experienced hiccups of its own so far, losing back-to-back games to the College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina, both at home.
Both teams are hoping to use the rest of December to find their identity as they move toward conference play. It begins Jan. 7 for Clemson and USC -- at home against Florida State for the Tigers, on the road against current No. 1 Kentucky for the Gamecocks.
Examining the state's two major conference basketball teams, this season obviously is more critical for Horn, as Clemson's Brad Brownell is coming off an NCAA tournament First Four win and a 9-7 ACC record in his first season with the Tigers. Horn, in his fourth season, is trying to improve on SEC records of 5-11 and 6-10 the past two years.
It won't happen if the Gamecocks continue to play these piecemeal games.
Unfortunately for Horn, that is often the reality of starting two freshmen, as the Gamecocks are doing with shooting guard Damien
Leonard and power forward Anthony Gill. They were both highly regarded recruits, but even North Carolina's Harrison Barnes -- the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2010 -- struggled at times during his freshman season.
Against North Carolina, Leonard acquitted himself well, shooting 5 of 12, 5 of 11 on 3-pointers (which are pretty much the only shots he takes), for 15 points. But he did not make a single shot or score a single point in the next two games, going 0 of 11 combined, 0 of 9 on 3s.
Leonard's backup, sophomore Brian Richardson, has also been sporadic. He shot 4 of 9 (4 of 7 on 3s) and scored 12 points against Southern Cal. In the Providence game, he played just 17 minutes, but managed to take 12 shots (and six 3s). He made two -- and zero 3s.
Horn saw signs of hope against Providence, which outscored USC just 42-40 in the second half, as the Gamecocks did a better job of working the ball inside first before taking outside shots -- something Horn has been imploring them to do. For this, Horn credited point guard Bruce Ellington, who played 15 second-half minutes in his first basketball game this season.
But Gill didn't do a good enough job of taking advantage of his opportunities in the paint. In six second-half minutes, he shot 1 of 2 and scored three points. He has shown he can play better than that. Against North Carolina, he scored 10 points (on 3-of-7 shooting, and 4 of 6 on free throws) and grabbed six rebounds -- while playing just 23 minutes because of foul trouble.
"We think Anthony's terrific right now, not down the road, and really has to have an aggressive mindset to assert himself," Horn said. "He caught the ball twice in the high post (against Providence) in the second half and really didn't get anything out of it, just because I didn't think he was aggressive."
South Carolina at Clemson When: 3:30 p.m. Where: Littlejohn Coliseum
TV: ESPNU. Radio: WTMA 1250-AM. Line: Records: South Carolina (2-5); Clemson (4-2) Notes: The Gamecocks have lost three straight games - to No. 1 North Carolina, Southern California and Providence. ... USC coach Darrin Horn is 1-2 against Clemson after winning 64-60 last season in Columbia. ... After today, the Gamecocks have final exams and don't play again until Dec. 13 at home against Presbyterian. ... Clemson rebounded from back-to-back losses to the College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina by beating Furman and then winning at Iowa 71-55 on Tuesday. After today, the Tigers have a big trip to Arizona on Saturday.