APPARENTLY DARRIN HORN'S kick in the butt to his team took a few days to sink in.
But when it did, it salvaged something from a disappointing season.
USC's stunning, come-from-behind win at No. 13 Vanderbilt on Saturday was amazing in a number of ways. Prior to it, the Gamecocks appeared they were going to mail in the rest of the season. They had been a terrible road team, and they looked badly outmatched against Vanderbilt on paper.
Then Devan Downey revved it up and revived his team.
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Does this win turn everything around? Not really, unless it leads to more incredible wins in Nashville at this week's SEC tournament. The Gamecocks are still 15-15, and even with a 1-1 performance in the tourney, would be on the far end of the NIT bubble.
Then again, wins over the league's top two teams and a great player in Downey could be attractive to the NIT. The Gamecocks are one of just two teams to beat Kentucky and one of two to win at Vanderbilt. That's gotta count for something.
Whatever happens, Saturday was another reminder of this team's capability - or specifically that of its diminutive star - and that you never know what could happen at the SEC tournament.
Earlier in the week, Horn had laid down the gauntlet. He said his team played like it "didn't think winning was important" in the loss to Mississippi State. There would be no excuse for a similar performance on Senior Night against Alabama.
"I take unbelievable privilege in being the head coach here, at an outstanding university, in this league, with unbelievable fans," Horn said. "That means something to me. And it's going to mean something to our team. And when you go out and do what we did on Saturday, to me you disrespect the game, the university, the scholarship gifts that you've been given."
Horn's statement seemed well-timed: Light a fire under the guys before a game they should win and then take that momentum into the Vanderbilt game and the SEC tournament.
But a day later, the Gamecocks responded with likely their worst loss of the year. Yes, losing at home to Alabama - which was without its best player, JaMychal Green - may have been as bad as losing at Wofford.
Then, with little expectation of pulling off the upset at Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks did just that. They avoided last place in the SEC East, and got a better seed in the tournament - and a better chance to make some noise.
Still, it's confounding. How does the same team that won at Vanderbilt and knocked off the No. 1 team in the country also lose to Alabama, Wofford, Boston College and Georgia?
A 6-10 SEC record was a fair prediction in early January, once this team lost two of its best players. It's how it arrived at that record that's surprising.
It starts with Downey. He was amazing over the first half of the SEC season, and, not surprisingly, his team was 4-4. Then his scoring slipped - in what was probably just a natural correction - and his team's fortunes slipped too.
But when he got going at Vanderbilt, he was the difference. If the kid is feeling it, look out. When Downey dribbled off that pick and went up for that late 3-pointer on Saturday, you just knew it was going in.
When Downey plays like that, it also seems to lift the team. His teammates played with poise and confidence down the stretch. When a game finishes with a clinching dunk from Stephen Spinella, you know it was your day.
Sam Muldrow also had a great game, and he basically has to for his team to have a chance. Any time his rebounding isn't there - like against Alabama - the Gamecocks get dominated on the boards. But at Vanderbilt, he was better on the boards and added 20 points.
The problem for the Gamecocks is they're still a team where winning comes down to a bunch of "ifs." If Downey scores big, if Muldrow rebounds, if Brandis Raley-Ross hits 3s, if the freshmen play solid ... then they have a chance.
That all happened at Vanderbilt. It didn't against Alabama. Now the Gamecocks get another shot at the Tide and another chance to show their coach they took his impassioned plea to heart.