South Carolina's hopes for a good conference run and post-season play took major hit during a three-game homestand that ended with a thud Saturday.
The Gamecocks started with an overtime win over Arkansas before losing to the league’s best team, Kentucky, and its worst, Auburn. They will need to win on the road to keep their hopes alive.
Here’s how USC fared during the homestand in some crucial areas identified before league play began:
Improve rebounding: Fail. USC outrebounded Kentucky and Arkansas by slim margins but got obliterated by Auburn 47-35. After the beating by the Tigers, the Gamecocks are getting outrebounded in SEC play.
Improve their shooting percentages: Fail. After a decent shooting game against the Hogs, the Gamecocks’ ranking near the bottom of shooting in conference game is not in danger after going 33 percent versus Kentucky and 34 percent against Auburn. USC’s 3-point average has taken a hit with back-to-back games of 17 percent and 21 percent – their worst performances of the season.
Keep teams under 40 percent shooting: Fail. Five straight SEC foes have shot above 40 percent. The problem is in the second half when four of the last five opponents have outshot USC. Florida and Arkansas shot over 60 percent in the final 20 minutes. The one opponent that didn’t outshoot South Carolina in the second half, Kentucky, made half its baskets in the first half.
Big Sam needs to show up: Check minus. It’s hard to complain about the forward's stats in the homestand. Muldrow was the star averaging a double-double in collecting 57 points and 30 rebounds. He also blocked 14 shots. But Kentucky freshman Terrence Jones and Auburn sophomore Rob Chubb had their way in Sam’s turf. Some of this came from getting little help, but Muldrow seemed to get caught of position as the big men got easy buckets. It was interesting how the defense tightened when Muldrow was joined by fellow senior Johndre Jefferson against Auburn.
Ellington needs reduce turnovers and his improve shooting: Check minus-minus-minus. Five turnovers, his most in a month, did not hurt against Arkansas, and he committed just four more in the next two losses. That was the good news. Bruce shot 29 percent during the homestand. The point guard was worse from 3-points – 13 percent. And Bruce made 57 percent of his free throws. The team’s leading scorer averaged 10 points in three-game stretch. That led Ramon Galloway to take more shots, which worked against Arkansas but not in the other home games. At least Ellington avoided foul trouble against Auburn.
Beat East Division foes expected to make NCAAs: Fail. Kentucky owned USC. But Florida, Vandy and Georgia are not on fire so there might be hope. Tennessee, on the other hand, has won four straight league games.
Earn a winning record in the easier first half of conference schedule: Check minus-minus. The win against Arkansas avoided a failing grade. You could argue beating Kentucky was going to be tough for USC. Losing to Auburn at home? Wow, that hurts. USC is 3-3 with two road games to finish the first half. LSU has been up and down, and Vandy just lost its first home game of the season. So maybe, possibly, hopefully