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February 6, 2009GEORGIA BULLDOGS (9-13, 0-7 SEC)
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (16-5, 5-3)
When: 5 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
TV: Fox Sports Net
Tickets: Limited tickets available at the box office
Georgia's probable starters: G Dustin Ware 5-11 Fr. (6.6 ppg, 1.9 rpg); G Corey Butler 6-3 Sr. (6.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg); G/F Terrance Woodbury 6-7 Sr. (13.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg); F Trey Thompkins 6-9 Fr. (13.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg); F Jeremy Price 6-8 So. (6.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 Jr. (20.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Sr. (16.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg); F Dominique Archie 6-7 Jr. (11.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg); F Sam Muldrow 6-9 So. (5.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg); F/C Mike Holmes 6-7 So. (11.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina plays the SEC cellar-dweller before taking off for a week. ... Georgia leads the all-time series 46-44 but USC leads 27-15 in Columbia. ... The Bulldogs have lost nine straight games. ... USC is tied with Kentucky for third place in the SEC East, a half-game behind Tennessee, which travels to Auburn tonight, and a full game behind idle Florida. ... The Gamecocks lead the SEC in scoring, averaging 80.5 points per game, and also lead the league in 3-point shooting (.388). ... The Bulldogs are last in the SEC in scoring and haven't put up more than 70 points in any of their last six games. USC gives up an average 70 points each game. ... The game is close to being the first sellout in the arena's history.
Next game: USC plays at Alabama at 3 p.m. on Feb. 14.
Darrin Horn knows he can't make a big issue out of it. He doesn't need to, anyway.
South Carolina's free throw shooting is not good, but it hasn't been the sole factor why the Gamecocks have lost any of their five games.
Yet it's still a nagging ache for which USC has yet to find a cure.
"I think the thing is, the other night, guys that are good free throw shooters didn't make them," Horn said on Friday. "(Mike) Holmes had a higher percentage than his average. That's going to come and go in some games.
"We talk to guys on particular ones they have missed about some simple things, like staying on the line, not backing off of the line, getting set before you shoot, just some basic reminders. Really, that's all you can do."
It seems so simple. There's nobody guarding. In Columbia, the crowd will help. All a player has to do is eye the basket and toss the ball through it.
It hasn't been working.
The Gamecocks (16-5, 5-3 SEC) were 10-of-22 from the line in a four-point loss to Florida four days ago. They're 10th in the SEC for the season (.625). Horn has said that it's simply a case of USC not being an 80 percent team, and boy, is he right -- USC has only broken 80 percent once all year, in an 80-66 win over The Citadel where it made 28-of-33 (84.8).
Horn and his assistants stress proper mechanics but don't belittle the point. If they did, the Gamecocks could cross into the mental part of shooting free throws, and that's a Pandora's box that's mystified plenty of other coaches.
It's a slump and hopefully nothing more. Horn is searching for an answer that he never had to find when he played.
"I think it's the easiest shot in basketball," he said. "I had the school record until I coached somebody who did better than me."
Horn actually ranks fourth on Western Kentucky's career free throw percentage chart, making 235 of his 291 attempts (.808) from 1992-95. He's one point behind Eric Back (1956-58) and both of them were outdone by two of Horn's former players at WKU -- Courtney Lee (.817) and Anthony Winchester (.810).
Every player has his routine and every player has his own approach to the line. Those haven't changed; some of the slight mechanics have.
And it's still a problem.
"Yeah, but I don't have a comment on that," forward Dominique Archie said, agreeing that he had his own routine but not wanting to say what it was. "Sometimes you miss them. Every player has their routine that they go through. It's just repetition. You try not to change anything because the more you practice it, the more it helps you shoot free throws."
Archie is hitting at a .605 clip. The team leader among the ones who play the most is guard Devan Downey, at .750.
Everybody's looking up to injured guard Branden Conrad, who is perfect on his 12 attempts this year, but he's been out of action since Dec. 18. Mitchell Carter has hit 8-of-10 (.800), but he's only played 77 minutes this season.
The rest of the Gamecocks are at varying degrees of success. Behind Downey, they range from .675 (Austin Steed) to .429 (Robert Wilder).
It hasn't cost them a game, but it's becoming increasingly obvious it soon may.
"The other night, even with the way we shot it from the foul line, we're right there with a couple of things we should be doing every night," Horn said.
Hosting Georgia (9-13, 0-7) tonight in the last game before a week off, the Gamecocks have another chance to correct the problem. The game is close to a sellout, which would be a first for Colonial Life Arena, and should offer an encouraging atmosphere.
But the fans can only do so much. The Gamecocks are the ones who have to make it count when they're on the line.
Deep breaths, a couple of bounces, putting an extra knot in the shoelace, whatever feels comfortable. USC's coaches haven't been harping on it -- they instruct the Gamecocks to relax and throw it in. Just like riding a bike.
But lately, the wheels have been flat.
"I don't think anybody's trying to miss," Horn joked. "Got to get locked in and knock it down."
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