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USC stuck in neutral following UK win

Columbia, SC 1/26/10 Gerry Melendez/gmelendez@thestate.com ---Gamecock players and fans celebrate USC's win over #1 Kentucky during the Gamecocks game against Kentucky at the Colonial Life Arena, Tuesday, January 26, 2010.
Columbia, SC 1/26/10 Gerry Melendez/gmelendez@thestate.com ---Gamecock players and fans celebrate USC's win over #1 Kentucky during the Gamecocks game against Kentucky at the Colonial Life Arena, Tuesday, January 26, 2010.

Four weeks and two days ago, the South Carolina men's basketball team pulled off perhaps the biggest upset of the season. Other than the "1" in Kentucky's loss column, the effect on each team has been minimal.

As USC takes the court at Rupp Arena tonight for the rematch, there is little expectation of a repeat outside the Gamecocks' locker room. The Wildcats, with revenge on their mind, have been installed as a heavy favorite.

Kentucky has not lost a game since its 68-62 defeat at Colonial Life Arena on Jan. 26. The second-ranked Wildcats are on track for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, might have to scramble to make the NIT.

In short, the Gamecocks are in the same position they were the day of the Kentucky game.

"There's no pressure on us," USC senior guard Brandis Raley-Ross said. "They're the No. 2 team, they've lost to us already. If we can keep the game tight, keep it close and play the way we want to play, the pressure's gonna be on them to put us away."

The Gamecocks have had the edge on the Wildcats lately. Second-year coach Darrin Horn, born and raised in Lexington, Ky., is 3-0 at USC against his hometown team, having swept the Wildcats last season.

Before that, USC had lost 41 of 48 all-time meetings with Kentucky, with only one other win at Rupp. The three-game winning streak is USC's first against the SEC's most famous program.

Horn, as he did last season, played down the story line of his homecoming. As for his players' confidence level, he was unsure.

"I don't know what that gives you heading into the game," Horn said of USC's victory in the first meeting. "Maybe it'll give our guys some confidence knowing that we have done that."

Raley-Ross was more emphatic.

"It's great confidence. It just shows that they're beatable," he said. "They're the second-ranked team, and we're not afraid of them. We know it can be done."

USC put together its best team effort of the season in the first meeting to record its first victory against a No. 1-ranked team.

Guard Devan Downey had a national coming-out party with 30 points. Raley-Ross chipped in 17 points, including a couple of key 3-pointers. Center Sam Muldrow had 11 rebounds and five blocks, and reserve center Johndre Jefferson had eight rebounds and four blocks.

"That was a night where our bigs collectively did a bit of everything," Horn said. "Nobody's numbers were amazing, but they were solid, and collectively it was good production. And I think that's been the key for our team all year long. And I just think it becomes magnified when you play a team that has the level of talent that Kentucky has."

Downey makes top 30 for Naismith Trophy. Downey was one of 30 players named to the midseason watch list for the Naismith Trophy, awarded annually to the men's college basketball player of the year.

Also among the top 30: Clemson's Trevor Booker, Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall and Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado.

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