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"Inside The Chart" with Andy Demetra (@GamecockRadio) - February 17, 2012

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February 17, 2012


When the losses pile up, players have plenty of reasons to "check out."  To lose pride, slink away, and stray from the things that made them successful.  It's the first slip on a slope that can lead teams to a cardinal sin of sports:  being okay with losing. 


When the whistle blew - ahead of schedule -- to end South Carolina's practice Tuesday, the Gamecocks could've merrily skipped away, content to punch the clock and enjoy the early dismissal.  Yet for a half-hour after practice, every Gamecock player stayed behind to get up extra shots.  They went through shooting drills, pushed up free throws, rebounded for one another, and generally ribbed each other as they waited their turn in the rotation. 


A 1-9 start in the SEC could have worn away at the Gamecocks' resolve.  It could've splintered them, left them resigned - or worse, made them okay with losing.  But inside those losses were comebacks.  Plenty of them.  In Knoxville, Gainesville, Oxford, and Fayetteville.  Yes, the losses had piled up.  But South Carolina had shown too much fight to stop now. 


The Gamecocks finally showed the fruits of their fight against Georgia.  Wednesday's game didn't come easy, nor did it come pretty, but the Gamecocks grinded their way from a seven-point deficit to beat the Bulldogs 57-56.  Will that preparation pay off further against LSU (15-10, 5-6 SEC) Saturday? 


Pre-tip reads before Gamecocks and Tigers renew pleasantries at Colonial Life Arena:


Cooke vs. Georgia.jpegStepping Up:  In the first half against Georgia, Malik Cooke, Bruce Ellington, and Damien Leonard doddered to a 1-of-13 shooting line.  They combined to go 6-for-12 in the second half.  Georgia shifted to a 2-3 zone in the second half, hoping to slow down Carolina's dribble penetration.  Cooke, Ellington, and Leonard's contributions helped offset that.


Malik Cooke (left) led South Carolina with 13 points vs. Georgia.


Quick Hands:  Georgia came in averaging 10.3 turnovers per game, the 4th-lowest total in the nation.  South Carolina shook out 13 turnovers from the Bulldogs, their second-highest total in SEC play.


Let's put it another way:  Georgia committed 13 turnovers in 40:00 against South Carolina.  Georgia had committed 13 turnovers in its last 82:15 of SEC play. 


Man To Stop:  center Justin Hamilton.  Behold!  A true low-post player.  At 7'0," 260 pounds, Hamilton sat out last year as a transfer from Iowa State.  He has since led the Tigers in scoring (13.7 ppg) and rebounds (7.3 rpg), while shooting a team-best 52.2% from the floor.  Hamilton has soft hands and a nice touch around the rim, with the ability to shoot smoothly from 8-12 feet.  His post offense is measured and well-schooled, rather than herky-jerky and explosive, and he shields the ball from his defender exceptionally well.  When you're 7'0," 260 pounds, why not use your body to your advantage?  He's also a terrific offensive rebounder (2nd SEC, 3.7 rpg).


Justin Hamilton.jpgIn addition to Hamilton, the Tigers feature 6'9," 262-pound freshman - yes, freshman -- Johnny O'Bryant, a former McDonald's All-American.  Damontre Harris played a career-high 38 minutes against Georgia, controlling the lane with his solar-eclipse length.  Can he avoid the foul trouble that sidetracked him in several SEC games, and maintain a steady defensive presence against Hamilton? 


Person of interest:  LSU 7-footer Justin Hamilton, an Iowa State transfer.   


Trap Game?  The Gamecocks weren't afraid to trap on the wing, or rotate a weak-side player over, to hunt for turnovers against Georgia.  The risk of a trap, of course, is that it leaves behind one less defender if the opposing ball-handler breaks your trap.  Even if the Gamecocks double LSU's posts, or force the Tigers to slingshot around the perimeter to avoid a trap, it may be worth the gamble.  LSU has shot 13 for its last 73 from three-point range (17.8%) in its last 5 games. 


Matchup to Watch:  South Carolina's Bruce Ellington vs. LSU freshman guard Anthony Hickey.  Maturity isn't measured easily in college basketball.  But Ellington has quietly shown more poise at the point during his sophomore season:


Bruce Ellington

Year                        Assists                   Turnovers

'10-11                    42                           43

'11-12                    40                           27


Ellington vs. Alabama.jpegAs you can see, Ellington has nearly as many assists - in five fewer games - while committing 16 fewer turnovers.  He's rushed less, and played in control more.  He'll receive a test Saturday from Hickey, a 5'10" former Kentucky Mr. Basketball who has had a solid rookie season for head coach Trent Johnson.  In addition to averaging 9.6 ppg and a team-high 3.8 apg, Hickey ranks among the SEC leaders in steals (2.1 spg).


Bruce Ellington will get a test from one of the quickest pairs of hands in the SEC, LSU point guard Anthony Hickey. 


Ellington and Hickey have several traits in common:  height (Hickey 5'10," Ellington 5'8"), hype (starting point guards from Day One), and crossover ability (both starred at quarterback for their high schools' football teams). Ellington will need to use his more mature ballhandling against Hickey's hyper-quick hands.  We'll also see if Ellington can use his athleticism to shed Hickey off ball screens, something the Gamecocks did often against Georgia.  At eye level, few players see eye-to-eye with Bruce.  Look at how Ellington has fared when facing an opposing point guard shorter than 6'0" in SEC play:


Date                       Team                      Player                                     Height                    Points Scored

1/15/11                 Florida                  Erving Walker                       5'8"                         23 points              

2/2/11                   LSU                         Andre Stringer                       5'9"                         20 points

1/14/12                 Florida                  Erving Walker                       5'8"                         17 points


Clearly, Ellington has shown he can get his shot up.


Threes Need Not Apply:  South Carolina has shot 10-51 (19.6%) from three-point range in its two SEC wins. 


We Interrupt This Game... South Carolina sealed the Georgia game thanks to stellar, 14-15 free-throw shooting.  Neither team has shown a penchant to drive or play physically - South Carolina ranks 334th in the nation in FTA/FGA, LSU 335th  That could easily decide the game - which team gets to the line better?


And Finally... Did the Gamecocks receive some serendipitous scheduling?  South Carolina held Georgia's triangle offense to an SEC season-low 35.1% FG.  Georgia head coach Mark Fox learned the triangle as an assistant coach at Nevada to Tigers head coach Trent Johnson.


Repetition and preparation.  The Gamecocks exhibited it after the practice whistle Tuesday.  They'll try to show it when the referee's whistle blows Saturday.


Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well.  Our pre-game coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you at Colonial Life Arena.


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