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No. 25 South Carolina, 18-3 and 5-2 in the SEC, host Alabama Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 7:30 pm and will then travel to Lexington, Ky. for a 1 pm (EST) match-up with the Wildcats of Kentucky on Saturday, Feb. 7. The Kentucky game will be broadcast by Jefferson-Pilot with announcers David Steele (play-by-play) and Larry Conley (color analyst) making the call. USC is 7-2 in televised contests this year.

The Gamecocks had won five straight SEC games before falling 68-79 at Ole Miss last Saturday. Alabama, 11-7 and 3-4 in the SEC, is coming off a Saturday loss at LSU, 54-60.

The Crimson Tide are coached by sixth-year head coach Mark Gottfried. `Bama was 19-12 last year with a 7-9 SEC record. They made the NCAA Tournament with a fourth place finish in the SEC West. They returned one starter and nine letterwinners.

UA leads the series 17-8 and have won the last four meetings against USC. The series in Columbia is tied 5-5.

Three weeks and counting

USC remained in the nation’s top 25 this week for the third straight week. USC is No. 25 in the Associated Press poll, after peaking at No. 24 last week. The Gamecocks are ranked No. 24 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll – their second straight week in the poll.

As of Tuesday, Feb. 3, USC is ranked No. 22 in the Sagarin ratings with its SOS ranking at 205. On, USC is ranked No. 42 with a SOS of 159. On, USC’s RPI is No. 43 and its strength of schedule is rated at 183.

Coach Speak

USC Head Coach Dave Odom and `Bama Head Coach Mark Gottfried both spoke to the media via the SEC tele-conference on Monday.

Coach Odom on the loss to Ole Miss: “They certainly deserved the basketball game. I give them all the credit. I thought our team was ready to play. We were in position to win the game in the second half. We have a pretty good feel for [what happened]. To be honest with you, it was too much Justin Reed. He was absolutely remarkable. But we need to put that game behind us and get ready for Alabama.”

“First of all, I think South Carolina is obviously very good,” said Gottfried. “They’re sitting here at 18-3 and are one of the best teams in the country with that record. Their defense is phenomenal. They’ve done a great job every night this year defensively, and we’ve got to go over there and play well. You look at their shooting percentages, they’re not great; but their defense has been spectacular every night. When you play against them, you’ve got to be able to handle a basketball, have some poise against their pressure if not allow yourself to get hurried up where you’re creating some turnovers and you’ve got to settle down and play.”

“We, having lost three in a row, have got to re-group,” said Gottfried. “We have to get ourselves back on track and we need to do it right now. Our guys are aware of that. These young guys have got to step up a little bit and play a lot better than we have.”

Kelley’s getting it

In loss at Ole Miss, freshman guard Tre’ Kelley tied a career high with 11 points (dating back to first game of his career vs. Gardner Webb, where he also scored 11 points). He was also 5-6 from the free throw line (both career highs), with two assists and a steal in 15 minutes.

Kelley has made 7-8 free throws (missing the first one against Ole Miss), dating back to the 84-63 win at Georgia. In fact, after opening his career making just nine of his first 20 free throws he seems to have found the winning stroke, hitting seven of his last eight.

The Midas Touch

The first three years Rolando Howell shot less than 59% from the free throw line. Not exactly the guy you would choose to shoot a technical foul. Those first three years he shot 67.9% his freshman year (74 of 109), 56.9% his sophomore year (70 of 123) and 51.7% his junior year (46 of 89).

This year, he’s hit an amazing 24 of 28, good for almost 86%. Why? It was something he worked on in the off-season but also when he had a broken foot, it was one of the only things he could do on the court. Or maybe it’s that circle around his body with the ball before he shoots? “He’s worked hard on free throws,” said USC strength coach Darby Rich.

Newcomer of the Year?

While Lawrence Roberts is wooing folks on the Western Division side of the SEC, the Eastern Division side has been getting to know Carolina junior Josh Gonner, who came to USC this year from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.

Against Ole Miss the junior had his second straight game with career-high five steals. He is currently second on the team in steals with 30 and second in ppg with 11.5. He has scored in double figures every SEC game. In addition he has scored more than 20 points or more twice against SEC foes: vs. Tennessee (a career high 24 points) and Ole MIss (20 points). In his short career at Carolina, he has scored in double figures 12 times in 19 games.

He also said hello to the ACC with 13 points in the 76-61 win at Clemson and then 19 points in the 58-55 home win over N.C. State.

Let’s hope the first impression lasts

The Gamecocks are 20-4 against teams visiting the Colonial Center for the first time. USC is 5-4 against SEC Opponents coming to the Colonial Center for the first time. The four losses were last year to Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, and Georgia while the Gamecocks defeated Arkansas, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi. The only SEC teams that have not came to play USC in the Colonial Center are Alabama (2/4) and Mississippi State (2/11).