“And you know it feels good,
To know that you're there by my side.”
------------------------------ TONY TONI TONE
I’m not much into saying that teams or athletes “deserve” wins. It’s a tricky business, saying one deserves something more than the other, since the other team probably didn’t do anything to not deserve the same thing.
After Wednesday, I feel compelled.
South Carolina deserved to win that game.
It’s not so much for the vats of crap that Frank Martin unnecessarily took last week, caused by the delicate ears and sensibilities of a few overzealous folks. It’s not so much because the Gamecocks hadn’t won an SEC tournament game for five straight years.
It’s mostly because this team has improved so much from the beginning of the year, despite having to basically start over mid-season when Ty Johnson broke his foot, and didn’t have a lot to show for it until now. You could see it building, the Gamecocks finishing games with that last stop or basket that they never could find early in the year, and when they won four of their final eight to close the regular season, you could sense that something great might be on the horizon.
I’m not saying that the Gamecocks will win four more games this weekend. But they got one out of the way, and four-in-four is definitely more reachable than five-in-five. The main thing is that they beat up on a team that had smacked them in the lip twice this year, won a game in the SEC tournament for the first time since Dave Odom patrolled the sideline and kept showing improvement, which is the biggest goal that any coach has for his team.
It’s always the hope for a struggling program – you may be expected to have a bad year, but if you just show that you can win at the end, it means you’ve learned, grown up, evolved so that there will be hope for the next year. There have been so many years at USC where the Gamecocks did just the opposite – start off well, have a postseason in sight and then skid into the wall as the rest of the cars hit the straightaway.
Barring a miracle more unlikely than finding another year of eligibility for Devan Downey and BJ McKie, the Gamecocks are going to end this season with a losing record, and just the fifth season of 20 or more losses in school history. It will also be the first time since 1922-23 that USC has had five straight losing seasons.
But as long as there are a few more wins before that 20th loss, it’s OK.
“We just want to keep taking steps forward,” Martin said. “Building something the right way. It’s not a race, it’s not a 100-yard dash. We’re not trying to set a world record for a short distance.”
Next up is Arkansas, a team fighting to make the NCAA tournament and a team that loves to run. Billed as the Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball, the Razorbacks love to let their speed turn loose their variety of dunkers, led by Harlem Globetrotters wannabe Michael Qualls.
USC feels equipped to handle it. The Gamecocks lost 71-64 to Arkansas on Feb. 19 in Fayetteville, a place where the road team hardly ever wins, but it was a two-point deficit with 90 seconds to play. USC had clawed back from a 17-point deficit just before halftime.
Playing in back-to-back-to-back games on consecutive days in Hawaii helped prepare USC for this kind of test as well, even with the short turnaround. The Gamecocks left the Georgia Dome around 10 p.m. on Wednesday and were set to play at 3:30 p.m. today.
But they feel good. They stuck with themselves and their embattled coach when times were dark and it’s paying off now. Duane Notice said he wanted to play hard for “his senior,” motioning toward Brenton Williams sitting beside him.
For the first time in a long time, me and lot of others are wishing that there were more games to play in a season.
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