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March 24, 2006

The South Carolina men’s tennis team steps back into conference play this weekend, as it heads to Baton Rouge, La., to take on No. 19 LSU on Friday afternoon (3 p.m. ET) and then pays a visit to 16th-ranked Arkansas on Sunday (2 p.m. ET). The Gamecocks (9-9, 1-3 SEC) are on the road for the third straight weekend before they return home to host Auburn and Alabama next week, March 31 and April 2.

Scouting the Gamecocks
Carolina, ranked 49th in this week’s Fila/Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, is coming off of an impressive 4-0 sweep of Big South foe Charleston Southern on Wednesday, earning its third shutout of 2006 in just two hours and 20 minutes at the Sam Daniels Tennis Facility in Columbia. The Gamecocks, who continue to suffer injury woes, will be without the services of junior Dmitry Babenko (back) this weekend, as well as senior Geraldo Knorr, who is out indefinitely, as neither player made the trip west.

For the Tigers…
LSU (9-6, 2-2 SEC) features three ranked players/doubles teams and a team ranking of No. 19. LSU has used the strength at the top of its lineup to earn several quality wins this season, notably at Michigan (5-2) and a pair of 4-1 wins over Colorado and Arkansas at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships in Seattle a month ago. Leading the way for the Bayou Bengals is junior Ken Skupski, who is currently No. 22 in the Fila Collegiate Tennis Rankings. Doubles is the Tigers’ strong point however, as Skupski and his partner Mark Growcott, who fell in the finals of the NCAA Doubles Championships last season, are at No. 12, while junior Danny Bryan and sophomore Colt Gaston jumped up 25 spots in the doubles rankings to No. 14.

…And the Razorbacks
Arkansas, a year removed from not making the NCAA Tournament, has rebounded in excellent fashion this season. The Razorbacks have posted an 11-5 record (2-2 in SEC play) on the year and are currently ranked 16th in the nation by the ITA. Their lineup features four nationally-ranked singles players and two top 50 doubles tandems. UA’s top three singles players are all seniors and include 15th-ranked Adrian Zguns (No. 1 singles) and No. 46 Matt Roberts (No. 3). Also ranked for the Razorbacks are senior Rohan Gajjar (No. 2 singles) and standout freshman Blake Strode (No. 4). Strode, who was one of the top juniors in the nation last year, put an early win on his resume when he captured the A-flight title at the 2005 USC Fall Invitational in Columbia last October.

The Match-Ups
The Gamecocks hold a 10-7 advantage in the all-time series, while USC trails the all-time series with LSU, 18-7. Recent years have favored the Gamecocks against the Razorbacks and Tigers. USC has lost just once since 2001 to LSU, while it has taken three of the last five matches against Arkansas. Last season, the Gamecocks claimed the first two of nine upsets, taking down No. 38 Arkansas, 5-2, and toppling the No. 9 Tigers, 4-3, to open conference play in 2005. The win over Arkansas was a memorable as USC head coach Kent DeMars moved into sole possession of the career wins mark at Carolina with his 320th victory for the Garnet and Black.

On Tap
Carolina returns home for two home matches this weekend, as it hosts No. 51 Auburn (8-5, 2-2 SEC) on Friday, March 31 at 2 p.m., and welcomes No. 43 Alabama (8-7, 1-3 SEC) to town on Sunday, April 2, for a 1 p.m. match. The Gamecocks took a 6-1 victory over the Crimson Tide in 2005, but could not overcome the swirling winds and soggy conditions two days later at the Luther Young Tennis Complex, and fell, 4-2, to the AU Tigers.