Gamecocks still searching for first conference win
Everyone on the South Carolina roster has been given an opportunity to step up to the plate in coach Darrin Horn's attempt to find a lineup that marriages aggressive defense with an opportunistic offense.
As the Gamecocks enter an open week with their next game taking place at Auburn on Jan. 21, Horn will use the time to find a way to put together a group that will accomplish what has not happened to date -- winning a Southeastern Conference game.
USC is 0-3 in league play and 8-9 overall. While the Gamecocks have been competitive for 20 minutes in their losses to Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida, they have entered the second half in striking distance of its opponent and even owned a one-point lead over the Gators only to end up losing convincingly.
The biggest issue has been finding ways to score consistently. Entering the week, Carolina was making only 42.6 percent of its field goals and 34 percent of its 3-point attempts.
The good news is sophomore point guard Bruce Ellington has returned to the starting lineup which helps one of the team's early problems, inconsistency at the position. Other problems persist, however, with the biggest being a lack of a consistent scoring threat at the two-guard spot.
Horn has given several guys an opportunity to nail down the spot. Freshman Damien Leonard opened the season in the starting line-up and then gave way to sophomore Eric Smith. Sophomore Brian Richardson started in the Gamecocks most recent game against Florida.
Although Richardson made three of eight field goals, he was a mere one of four from 3-point range. Horn will probably start Richardson again when the team takes on Auburn, but only because he appears to have run out of options.
"So far in league play our team has been a tale of two halves," said Horn. "Obviously (scoring 41 points in the first half against Florida) is tremendous for us. I don't think there is any question that the way we started and how those guys responded was a huge part of that.
"There is no question we have to find a way to continue to do that. It may not be 41 points, but to find a way to score and get some stops."
Sophomore point guard Bruce Ellington is finally a full time member of the basketball team. He has quickly proved what was already known -- he is the best player on the team.
Following a 20 point scoring effort against Vanderbilt in game in which he also had four assists and no turnovers off the bench. That earned Ellington his first start of the 2011-12 season after having to split time between the Gamecock football and basketball squads.
He again led USC in scoring in his starting debut against Florida, scoring a game-high 17 points and dishing out three assists, while suffering only one turnover in 28 minutes. Early foul trouble forced him to miss valuable minutes in both halves.
There are still growing pains, however, as Ellington's teammates are still working at getting comfortable with him handling the basketball most of the time.
Sophomore point guard Brenton Williams has seen his playing time decrease significantly since suffering a sprained knee early in the season. That could be changing as he may have supplanting fellow sophomore Eric Smith as the squad's backup to Bruce Ellington.
Williams looked comfortable and played well in a 14-minute stint against Florida. He made three of seven 3-point attempts and pulled down two rebounds. He also ran the team well as he was credited with only one turnover.
While Eric Smith, who started USC's initial 16 games, is struggling, it will be important for Williams to continue to play well in Ellington's absence.
Much has been made of South Carolina's ability to grab offensive rebounds. While that is a good team trait, the biggest reason for its success in that category has been its inability to make shots. That has led to easy baskets by opponents when they grab defensive rebounds.
"When the ball is not going in the basket for a long period of time, it has to stay at a high level defensively," said USC coach Darrin Horn.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"As I have told you before we can't make them older, faster ... In general we have got to understand that we may have a few lulls and we have to continue to find a way to defend better to give ourselves a better opportunity when that happens." -- USC coach Darrin Horn on his team's youth and its inconsistency.