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USC-Clemson rivalry switches to hardwood

Darrin Horn is not naive. He he knows what's on people's minds in South Carolina. Last week he began a media session by complimenting the USC football team on its "huge win" against Clemson.

The coach's perspective on the rivalry started a couple of days after he was hired in April 2008, when Horn attended a Clemson-USC baseball game. The sight of fans watching from trees made quite an impression.

"(When) Carolina and Clemson get together in anything, it's important," Horn said.

Clemson coach Oliver Purnell took the same approach when talking about today's game against the Gamecocks.

But as fans focus on beating their rival, the teams will have other worries today at Littlejohn Coliseum.

Clemson hopes it can rebound from Wednesday's home loss to Illinois, in which the Tigers blew a 23-point second-half lead. Purnell gave the team off Thursday to recover and hopes playing USC will help Clemson re-focus.

"It's a rivalry game. And with that comes a motivated opponent, without question," Purnell said. "It's very important that we're just motivated and that we bounce back."

South Carolina's concern is the opposite: keeping the approach it had Wednesday, when it hustled its way to a rout of Western Kentucky without starters Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes.

"It's also an opportunity for us to continue to try to take steps forward with the things that we have been talking about, especially with our circumstances," Horn said. "I think the fact that it's a rivalry game, it only adds to that."

Clemson has won the past five games in the series, the past four by double digits, including last year's 98-87 victory that gave Horn his first taste of the rivalry. The USC earned his only technical of the season in the game.

USC last beat Clemson in 2003, Purnell's first season with the Tigers, 76-61 at Littlejohn Coliseum. The Gamecocks went on to play in the NCAA tournament, their most recent appearance.

Purnell has been impressed with USC, calling the team "a tough bunch" that played well without Holmes and Archie on Wednesday.

Plus, the Gamecocks still have Devan Downey. The senior point guard scored 37 points against Clemson last season, and Purnell praised Downey as "one of the best players in the country."

But the rivalry has been a source of frustration for Downey.

Two years ago, after losing 85-74, Downey called out his team for "playing the bully" against lesser teams but not showing up against the bigger ones.

This time, Downey appears to be taking a long-term outlook. Because, unlike in football, once the USC-Clemson game is over, plenty of season remains.

"It means a lot, but at the same time, it's not gonna make or break our season," Downey said.

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