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March 17, 2004

No. 10 South Carolina (23-10) vs. No. 7 Memphis (21-7)
REGIONAL: East Rutherford, First round
TIME: Friday, 12:30 p.m. EST
SITE: Kemper Arena; Kansas City

After an 11-game winning streak, Memphis limped into the NCAA tournament and ended up with a disappointing seed.

Now, the Tigers are hoping to avoid another early round exit as they face a South Carolina team eager to reverse its own tournament fortunes.

Memphis lost three of its last four games, including a 72-61 setback to Saint Louis in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament Thursday.

The defeat came just four days after Cincinnati beat the Tigers 83-79, ruining Memphis’ chances of an outright C-USA regular-season title and creating an eventual five-way tie for first place.

The Tigers weren’t exactly thrilled when they were given a No. 7 seed in the East Rutherford Region.

“I think they’re still a little bit stunned over what happened,” coach John Calipari said, referring to the C-USA tournament loss.

“They’re going into this with a little different light than they did a year ago. Even me, I was just wondering where it would fall, what seed we would get.”

However, the Tigers, who were knocked out in the first round of last season’s tournament by Arizona State, know they have a chance to make up for their late-season slump.

“We’ve got a chance to redeem ourselves,” forward Rodney Carney said. “Hopefully we’ll get together and do that.”

Antonio Banks, the C-USA newcomer of the year, leads the Tigers with 18 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

“If we play like we did when we went on the winning streak, and not the last three out of four games, we’ll be fine,” said Banks, who managed a season-low six points on 2-for-11 shooting against Saint Louis.

“The last three games have been like tournament-style games down to the wire. It’s better to make mistakes then than in the next one.”

The Gamecocks are returning to the tournament for the first time in six years.

South Carolina, picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference following a 12-16 campaign last season, won 18 of its first 20 games and knocked off Arkansas and LSU in the SEC tournament.

“If there’s a team in this country that’s come 180 degrees,” coach Dave Odom said, “it’s us.”

However, the Gamecocks have not fared well recently in the NCAAs. They’ve lost four straight tournament games, with their last win coming 31 years ago in the East Regional consolation game against Southwest Louisiana.

South Carolina’s losing streak includes some crushing upsets. In 1997, the Gamecocks won the regular-season SEC title and entered with a No. 2 seed, but fell 78-65 in the first round to No. 15 seed Coppin State – one of just four such upsets since the tournament expanded to 16 seeds in 1985.

The following season, the third-seeded Gamecocks were upset 62-61 by Richmond.

“There’s no Chicken Curse here,” Odom said. “I don’t want to hear any of that here.”

Odom’s team doesn’t hold much stock in the team’s rocky tournament past, either.

“(The losing streak) has nothing to do with this team,” said point guard Mike Boynton, named to the All-SEC tournament team after tying a tournament record with 14 3-pointers made. “You don’t play against history, you don’t play against legacy, you just play basketball.”

Memphis leads the all-time series 17-5, including a 72-62 win in the NIT championship game two years ago.

PROBABLE STARTERS: South Carolina – F Carlos Powell (12.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg), F Tarence Kinsey (8.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), F Kerbrell Brown (7.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg), G Boynton (10.2 ppg, 3.5 apg), G Josh Gonner (12.1 ppg, 2.2 apg). Memphis – F Carney (12.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg), F Banks (18 ppg, 6.7 rpg), F Arthur Barclay (2 ppg, 3.1 rpg), G Antonio Burks (16.1 ppg, 5.5 apg), G Anthony Rice (9.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: South Carolina – At-large berth. Memphis – At-large berth.

ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: South Carolina – 4-8, 8 years. Memphis – 18-17, 17 years.