South Carolina vs. LSUWHEN: 7 p.m.WHERE: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia TV: ESPN2 RADIO: RECORDS: USC 12-11 (2-8 SEC); LSU 13-8 (4-6) NOTES: This is the first time all season that USC will play a team for the second time. The Gamecocks won at LSU on Jan. 16, 82-73 in overtime. That loss dropped LSU to 0-3 in SEC play. Since then, the Tigers are 4-3 and USC is 1-6.
COLUMBIA — South Carolina will not play Arkansas again this year, at least not in the regular season. So the Gamecocks won’t be able to apply the things they learned while beating the Razorbacks 75-54 — USC’s most impressive win of the season, and one of its two Southeastern Conference victories.
But the Gamecocks do get their return game tonight at LSU, which they beat 82-73 on the road on Jan. 16. Given USC’s previous success against the Tigers, this is a prime opportunity for the Gamecocks to stop a four-game losing streak.
If it doesn’t end tonight, things could get gruesome very quickly for USC, which travels to Alabama on Saturday and hosts Mississippi next Wednesday.
USC (12-11, 2-8 SEC) is fighting to stay above .500, where it has been all season, and remains stuck on the number of league wins it had last season (2-14). USC coach Frank Martin believes the success his players had against LSU — particularly in closing out a game that was winnable near the end — could serve them well tonight.
“Hopefully, we can have a sense of confidence that we were able to play halfway decent against them,” Martin said.
Of the Gamecocks’ 10 SEC games, they have been within one possession in the final two minutes of six of them. You can even throw in the Georgia game, which they trailed by five points with 1:51 remaining. In those seven games, USC is 1-6, with its only win at LSU.
Wing player Michael Carrera has emerged as USC’s leading scorer with 11.1 points per game and also leads USC with 7.2 rebounds per game. The freshman has been the lone consistent highlight for USC in its four-game losing streak, during which he has scored 13, 16, 18 and 18 points, and grabbed nine, seven, six and 11 rebounds. He is shooting 23 of 41 during this stretch.
“Michael does not like to lose,” Martin said. “He’s playing like a guy that does not like to lose. It’s crazy (because) if you ask him, and he’ll tell you, (that) he’s never in the right place offensively half the time. But he’s got that sense of courage that you’ve got to have. He’s learning. He’s a freshman. You’re asking a freshman to perform like a senior. The desire is there.
“In his defense, he’s missed a lot of practice time because of injuries. You learn how to play in practice. You perform in games. It’s hard to catch him up to speed. If we didn’t have (NCAA-mandated) practice limits, we could probably figure out a way to put him back up to speed. But unfortunately, there are caps there that we can’t overcome.”
After fighting through a hip injury that sidelined him for two games in late December and limited him in the next two, Carrera is now being asked to match his lanky, 6-5, 212-pound body against bulkier post players. Which is why Martin is justifiably concerned about how USC will be able to handle LSU’s leading scorer and rebounder, 6-9, 262-pound sophomore Johnny O’Bryant.
O’Bryant has double-doubles in six of seven games since LSU (13-8, 4-6) lost to USC, on a night when he had nine points and six boards. Not coincidentally, LSU has won four of its past six games.
“They’re a lot better,” Martin said. “O’Bryant is probably playing the best stretch of basketball that he’s played in his time at LSU right now. He’s a difficult matchup for us.”
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