Odom knows playing at UK 'real problem'

February 06, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - South Carolina is having a far more successful season than most imagined this year, but coach Dave Odom has a lot to worry about going into Saturday's game at Kentucky.

First, Kentucky will have had an extra day of rest after winning at Florida Tuesday while South Carolina needed an overtime to beat Alabama Wednesday.

Second, the game is in Rupp Arena.

"Going into Kentucky is a real problem for anybody," said Odom. "We are behind the eight ball in terms of getting our team ready for an early start on Saturday. We have to be careful not to burn all the energy needed for Saturday's game in game preparation. As great a team as Kentucky is, we have to give our kids the best possible chance to be energized on Saturday."

Kentucky is 15-3 overall, 5-2 in Southeastern Conference play and ranked ninth. However, South Carolina actually has a half-game lead over UK in the SEC Eastern Division with its 6-2 record. The Gamecocks are 19-3 overall and ranked 25th.


"Certainly South Carolina is having an outstanding season," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "I am very impressed with the way they have been pressing and distributing the ball. They also have had excellent bench depth that has been giving them a lift."

Kentucky might not be at full strength Saturday. Senior guard Gerald Fitch injured a finger on his shooting hand at Florida and Smith said Thursday that he was "questionable" for Saturday's game, which will give the winner the SEC East lead.

Smith said he's not sure how he would alter his starting lineup or playing rotation if Fitch, UK's leading scorer and best 3-point shooter, can't play. However, Odom knows Kentucky has not won 15 games, and 31 of its last 35, by depending on just one player.

"The last two years they have been as good a fundamental pass and catch team, particularly on the interior, as I have seen in college basketball," Odom said. "Their ability to pass and catch last year was amazing, and they have taken that and built on it this year. They tie the inside and outside together as well as any team in the league.

"The other thing about them is their defense. They play five guys as one about as well as anyone you will find in college basketball. You talk about playing together on offense, but coaches who know could look at Kentucky and say they have five guys that play as one as well as anybody."

Gamecocks giving up just 64 points per game in SEC

South Carolina apparently is not far behind with its defensive approach. The Gamecocks are giving up just 58 points per game overall and only 64 per game in SEC play.

"They can outrun their mistakes because they are so quick," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "That is a testament not only to their quickness, but also to the level of effort they have."

"They do a lot of trapping out top and on the wings," LSU coach John Brady said. "They make it where the floor is not set and make the game kind of goofy."

Smith knows the Gamecocks will test his team's offense, especially if Fitch is out.

"If you have team speed and athleticism, that can put a lot of pressure on you because they are always attacking," Smith said.

Odom hinted Thursday that his team might not press as much against Kentucky after giving up 79 points in a loss to Ole Miss last week and 82 in the win over Alabama Wednesday.

The Gamecocks, like Kentucky, lack a true center and often try to give 6-8 Kerbrell Brown (8.9 points, 5.2 rebounds per game) help inside.

"We try to get him as much help as possible from people not guarding great 3-point shooters," Odom said. "We try to gang up on the post because we are undersized.

"Kerbrell is a fiery competitor who really wants to win. We have changed the way we play to take advantage of his talent. He's undersized, but what he has done is amazing."

South Carolina has SEC road wins at Georgia, Auburn and Vanderbilt. It's only road loss was at Mississippi. The other league loss came to Florida in the conference opener.

"I think we've gained a certain toughness you need to play well on the road," Odom said. "We tried to sell to our team that if you want to be involved in the conference race, winning on the road is a must. Look at any league and teams involved in the conference championship race the last four or five games are the ones that won on the road.

"This is an important game, but it is still far too early to be talking standings, regular-season championships and records. But we do know what is at stake and how hard it will be to win at Kentucky."

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