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Gamecocks receive an urgent message

Brandis Raley-Ross shouts to teammates as head coach Darrin Horn watches the action.
Brandis Raley-Ross shouts to teammates as head coach Darrin Horn watches the action.

When he came to South Carolina four years ago, Brandis Raley-Ross expected he would play in the NCAA tournament at least once, if not more.

Now the guard is a senior, the last half of his final SEC season has arrived, and the possibility exists that Raley-Ross will end his career without a trip to the Big Dance.

"A sense of urgency, that's the word," Raley-Ross said. "I'm not really trying to look at it like that, I just know I want to do all I can and try to motivate the guys and make sure we go out fighting.

"I don't want to look back and say I shoulda, coulda, woulda."

The Gamecocks are in a precarious position: They have the opportunity to qualify for the NCAA tournament but have little margin for error. A sharp drop-off even could put an NIT berth in doubt.

The remaining schedule includes two tough road games - at Kentucky and Vanderbilt - and a home matchup with Tennessee, which dismantled USC on Saturday.

If the Gamecocks don't win one of those games, they might need to run the table to earn an NCAA bid.

"We're still going to take it one game at a time, but we know that we've got to start winning games down the stretch," Raley-Ross said. "We've got to protect our home court, and we've got to get some (wins) on the road. We know that."

Florida (17-6, 6-3) is in much better shape. The Gators are projected as a No. 7 seed by ESPN.com.

So a win tonight would provide a big boost to USC's tournament resume, which also includes key victories against then-No. 1 Kentucky and possible at-large NCAA teams Richmond and South Florida.

USC has just one road win, at Auburn.

USC coach Darrin Horn was asked Tuesday how he felt about his team's position at the midpoint of league play.

"I would ask you guys that question," Horn said. "Nobody thought we were going to be .500 with our situation at this point. So we feel like we've got a great opportunity."

Horn then pointed out that four of his team's eight remaining games are at home. The Gamecocks are 10-2 at Colonial Life Arena.

"To be .500 and still be in striking position for everything we want to do, I think that's great," he said.

For now, Horn's emphasis will be the team's effort. He felt it was lacking in Saturday's 79-53 loss at Tennessee, which he thought might have been a delayed carryover from the Kentucky win.

"Guys got a wake-up call. We have not been good in terms of playing to our potential since the Kentucky game," Horn said. "Found a way to win against Georgia, which was a positive, then maybe got told how good we were for a week. We didn't play the way we needed to on Saturday, bottom line."

The time is now for the Gamecocks to begin doing so.

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