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January 30, 2009SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (15-4, 4-2 SEC)
NO. 24 KENTUCKY WILDCATS (16-5, 5-1)
When: Sat., Jan. 31, 3 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
Tickets: Sold out
South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 Jr. (19.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Sr. (15.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg); F Dominique Archie 6-7 Jr. (11.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg); F Sam Muldrow 6-9 So. (5.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg); F/C Mike Holmes 6-7 So. (11.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg)
Kentucky's probable starters: G Jodie Meeks 6-4 Jr. (25.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg); G Michael Porter 6-3 Jr. (3.6 ppg, 1.9 rpg); G Ramon Harris 6-7 Jr. (5.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg); C Patrick Patterson 6-9 So. (18.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg); F Perry Stevenson 6-9 Jr. (8.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina begins what could be the most vicious stretch of the season, playing at Kentucky and at Florida in a span of four days. ... The Gamecocks are within a game of first place in the SEC East. Florida and Kentucky are tied for the top spot. ... The Wildcats lead the all-time series 41-7 and are 21-1 at Rupp. The Gamecocks have not won in Lexington since winning the SEC regular-season championship there in the 1996-97 season. ... Harris fainted two games ago and sat out the second half but has been medically cleared to play. He started Kentucky's loss to Ole Miss. ... A battle between the top two scorers in the SEC -- No. 1 Meeks and No. 2 Downey. ... USC has not won four straight league regular-season games since the 2003-04 season, but the Gamecocks won their regular-season finale in 2005-06 and then won three straight in the SEC tournament.
Next game: USC plays at Florida at 9 p.m. on Tues., Feb. 3.
Darrin Horn said he'd briefly think about it.
"The thing that's neat about being involved with athletics, when you're in the middle of it, you're in the middle of it," Horn said on Monday during the SEC coaches teleconference. "That part of it is neat to me. It'll mean a lot to my family. When you grow up there, everything is Kentucky basketball and the SEC and the level they play at."
Horn will return to one of his old stomping grounds today when he brings his South Carolina team into Rupp Arena to face No. 24 Kentucky. Horn, a Kentucky native, played basketball at Lexington's Tates Creek High School, around six miles from Rupp's front door.
Horn never wore the blue and white of the Wildcats, instead going to Western Kentucky as a player and eventual coach. This afternoon, he gets his first chance as a member of the same league to play the legendary program of his youth.
"It is hard for it not to be brought up," Horn admitted. "I'll just be doing my job. I'll be doing it on the biggest stage."
Perhaps Horn can draw some inspiration from his family and friends, sure to be in attendance. Perhaps more can be drawn from gazing at the list of Kentucky's SEC regular-season championships (some of them in 1995, 1996, 1998) and realizing that the one blip in that run - 1997 - was won by his new school on the same floor he'll be standing on.
Or perhaps, and most likely, he'll give it a nanosecond's thought and get back to what's really on his mind - how to beat the Wildcats and turn the Gamecocks' three-game winning streak into four.
"What's impressive to me about Kentucky is their team, the way that they play," he said. "Their depth and their length and their athleticism. It's going to be a challenge for us to go in and play a team like that. We need to find a way at some point to take another step and get a victory on the road."
The Gamecocks (15-4, 4-2 SEC) have won their past three games, their longest league streak in three years, and come into the matchup playing confidently and well. One potential pitfall, though, is their ability to begin the game strongly.
That led to losses at LSU and Tennessee in their first foray onto the SEC road, although the Tennessee game ended up becoming a one-possession game by the final bell. Horn said beginning strongly against the Wildcats is crucial.
"We've got to put ourselves in position to win the game," he said. "That's not something we've done in our two road games. We've dug ourselves holes and not been able to get out of them."
Then there's the small matter of guarding SEC leading scorer Jodie Meeks, who comes in with a healthy 25.8 points per game average.
The Gamecocks will counter with the league's second-leading scorer, Devan Downey.
"Just a great shot-maker," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings after Downey torched his team for 18 points in an 86-76 USC win on Wednesday. "There's a lot of different things there. Extraordinarily quick with the ball. A real special offensive player."
Stallings was asked if Downey was the best guard he'd seen this year.
"Jodie Meeks is pretty good," Stallings replied, deadpan.
Horn's trying to find a way to improve USC's 0-2 league record but knows Kentucky (16-5, 5-1) will be plenty motivated to make it 0-3. The Wildcats dropped their first league game of the year to Ole Miss earlier this week and won't want to make it two defeats in a row.
But then again, USC is playing its best basketball right now. Homecoming or not, Horn's thoughts are occupied with keeping that great play going.
"As a competitor and a coach, that's what you want," he said. "That part of it is as exciting to me as the other. I just don't think I'll dwell on it very long. We're playing a very dadgum good Kentucky team."