USC is a year older, wiser
Published: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 10:59 p.m.
Last season, they were the gang that couldn't shoot straight.
The basket looked like a pinhole to South Carolina shooters. The Gamecocks ranked 10th in the Southeastern Conference in shooting percentage (.434) and 11th in three-point percentage (.327).
With an emphasis on defense and ball control, South Carolina still managed 23 wins, good enough to make the NCAA Tournament.
The defensive intensity has carried over to this season, but so has a newfound ability to shoot the basketball. Entering Saturday's game against Florida at the O'Connell Center, South Carolina ranks fourth in the conference in shooting percentage (.473) and knocked down some big perimeter shots in its 68-63 second-half comeback Wednesday night against Vanderbilt.
South Carolina coach Dave Odom made shooting a point of emphasis during the offseason.
"We did ask our returning guys to work on that," Odom said. "You never really know because you can't see them during the offseason but we asked them to put up about 500 shots a day. Then in practices, we have tried to put aside 10 to 15 minutes strictly for shooting.
"But I think the biggest emphasis this year has been shot selection, know where you are as a shooter, who you are as a shooter and if it's the right shot in the right situation."
In two games against the Gators last year, South Carolina shot a combined 10-for-48 (20.8 percent) from three-point range.
"They are a different team than they were a year ago," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "Last year, with Rolando Howell and Kerbell Bown up front, those were two really good frontcourt guys that were older guys. You look at this year, they are almost playing four guards, so from an offensive standpoint, roles have probably changed a bit and they are probably shooting the ball with a lot more freedom and a lot more confidence."
Guards Tarence Kinsey and Tre Kelley have shown the ability to shoot from the perimeter, and even 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Brandon Wallace has extended range out to 19 feet. The Gamecocks top three-point shooting threat, senior Josh Gonner, comes off the bench.
"Generally each year that goes by you become a better shooter," Donovan said. "Gonner although last year was his first year, he's a year older, Kinsey a year older. Generally when you are older, you have a better understanding where your shots are coming from and where they are coming from in the offense."
Florida's best defensive strategy may be to extend South Carolina beyond the arc. The Gamecocks still rank ninth in three-point shooting in the conference at 33.3 percent.
Florida has won its last seven meetings against South Carolina. Odom hasn't beaten the Gators since he took over the South Carolina program in 2001.
"People like to look at it like this coach's record against that coach's record," Donovan said. "I never looked at it that way. I look at it more like trying to do the best job you can as a coach to get your team prepared to play."
Donovan noted that last year Florida escaped South Carolina with a three-point win on the road, and was down by three points at home in the final five minutes before pulling out a 69-58 comeback win.
"I would say that we've been fortunate to beat South Carolina," Donovan said.
Last season, senior forward David Lee had two of his better games against the Gamecocks. Lee finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds in the SEC opener between the schools at South Carolina and had 12 points and 5 rebounds against South Carolina at home.
"From year to year, it's really going to vary," Lee said. "Each game presents different challenges."
Donovan said that junior Adrian Moss is improving from compressed disc problems in his back, but has not set a timetable for his return, "He's still not practicing, he's just going through physical therapy in the morning, stretching, back strengthening exercises," Donovan said. "I hope to get him back. We need him back for our team. He's made some strides to get better, but he'll definitely be out against South Carolina." ... Moss hasn't played since Jan. 12 against Auburn.
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