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January 10, 2009Zam Fredrick could get used to this.
Two games ago, he hit the winning shot at then-No. 19 Baylor. One game ago, he scored his 1,000th career point in a win over Wofford.
On Saturday, he poured in a season-high 27 points and led South Carolina to its first 1-0 SEC start in seven years as the Gamecocks beat Auburn 68-56.
"I'm just taking it a day at a time," Fredrick said, shrugging off the accolades. "I'm enjoying it right now.
"It's my last season. I'm just trying to go out on top. Do whatever I need to do; take all the necessary steps to give my team what they need."
What they needed against Auburn was for somebody to put the ball in the hole. No one could do it consistently except Fredrick -- no other Gamecock had more than nine points.
The senior guard drove in, spun around, launched from 25 feet -- in general, kept doing what he's become known for doing. The scorer from St. Matthews hit 9-of-18 field goals and was perfect from the stripe as USC (12-2, 1-0 SEC) got a crucial league win at home before heading out for two straight on the road.
"Maybe we should give him a ball every game," joked USC coach Darrin Horn (Fredrick was honored with a commemorative ball for his 1,000th point in a pre-game ceremony). "I thought he was terrific tonight.
"I love Zam Fredrick. I wish I could coach him for three more years after this one. He's a guy that brings it every day, he's a terrific teammate, he's really stepped up his leadership role for us and he did tonight what we need done. He played like a fifth-year senior, regardless of the points."
Fredrick bailed the Gamecocks out of a shooting malaise that had them trailing the majority of the first half. He had 10 by the break and then sunk a short jumper right out of the locker room.
With USC nursing a four-point lead and getting blitzed on the boards, Fredrick stayed hot. He blistered a 3-pointer through the net to wake up his slumbering team and the Gamecocks never looked back.
USC ripped off a 17-2 run begun with Fredrick's 3. Leading 51-32 with just under 12 minutes to play, USC almost let Auburn (10-5, 0-1) back in the game until Fredrick once again saved the day by making both ends of a one-and-one.
The Gamecocks loped to the finish and accomplished what they needed -- a statement game that said this year just may be different than all of the sour ones that have preceded it. No one was boasting about it afterward, but the relaxed expressions were rampant.
"We're 1-0 in the league," Devan Downey said. "Stay calm, because after tonight, we got to get this one behind us. Two-and-oh is better than 1-0."
The problems could be short-listed because the Gamecocks won. USC was out-rebounded 41-36, including 18 by Korvotney Barber. The Gamecocks forced 24 turnovers but committed 18. Downey didn't score in double figures for the first time since March 9 of last year, a streak of 15 games. They were 4-of-17 from the 3-point line and played way too comfortably with a 19-point lead and over 11 minutes to play.
"We just did a really poor job down the stretch," Horn said. "And the problem was it was two or three different guys having some turnovers when all we had to do was be strong with the basketball."
Using the speed of their own Downey clone, junior guard DeWayne Reed, Auburn constantly burned the Gamecocks in transition for easy baskets. Reed led the Tigers with 21 points and wasn't held in check all night, even when he picked up his fourth foul with 10 minutes to go.
"He's fast," said guard Brandis Raley-Ross. "He has like, one gear. It's like top notch. He gets two, three steps and it's down here."
Still, USC didn't sink completely. Downey, despite not taking over offensively, was credited by Horn for a phenomenal defensive effort. Auburn's frustration at not getting any more quick buckets when it was so close to turning the game back around boiled over when Brendon Knox bounced a two-handed dunk off the back rim, USC rebounded, Auburn stripped the ball and recovered and then threw it right out of bounds.
The five Tigers on the floor each began turning to the other and motioning to calm down. It didn't help -- they got it within seven points until Fredrick made his free throws and helped out breaking Auburn's press.
Something to work on, definitely -- handling a big lead in a conference game.
But boy, did it feel good to win.
"I don't think it was real pretty but we were really pleased to get our first win," Horn said. "What a tremendous crowd tonight. That's the kind of atmosphere that can lead to us having some really good nights."
Fredrick accepted the congratulations but seemed ready to get to the next game. Only natural, the way he's been playing.
"I just had open opportunities," he said. "I just kept attacking. Fortunately, they were falling tonight."