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January 21, 2009
The Garnet Army in Formation Tonight
NO. 24 FLORIDA GATORS (16-2, 3-0 SEC)
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (12-4, 1-2)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
Florida's probable starters: G Nick Calathes 6-6 So. (17.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg); G Walter Hodge 6-0 Sr. (7.7 ppg, 1.7 rpg); C Alex Tyus 6-8 So. (12.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg); F Chandler Parsons 6-9 So. (8.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg); F Dan Werner 6-8 Jr. (9.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 Jr. (19.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Sr. (16.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G Brandis Raley-Ross 6-2 Jr. (6.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg); F Dominique Archie 6-7 Jr. (11.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg); F/C Mike Holmes 6-7 So. (11.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina begins a three-game homestand before taking off for four road games among the next five. ... Florida has won 10 straight games and is tied with Kentucky and Mississippi State for the SEC lead. ... The Gators lead the series 34-19 and have won five straight and 14 of 16. ... Archie is coming off a career-high performance. He yanked 12 rebounds in an 82-79 loss at Tennessee. ... It will be the second straight game USC is playing the No. 24 team in The Associated Press poll. ... Fredrick is averaging 21.0 points in league games, third in the SEC. ... The Gators swept the series last year but won two games by a combined five points. ... USC is 10-1 at Colonial Life Arena this season. Florida is 5-1 lifetime in the same building. ... Florida guard Hudson Fricke is a Greenville native and played at Southside Christian High School.
Next game: USC hosts Ole Miss at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
Sometimes, the X's and O's can wait.
South Carolina coach Darrin Horn strolled into the room on Tuesday sporting the university's newest initiative. The normally dapper coach was clad in a camouflage T-shirt (except garnet, black, gray and white replaced the greens and tans) that read "South Carolina Basketball: Garnet Army" across the chest.
The roomful of reporters didn't quite know how to react. Some laughed. Some muttered comments not meant to print. One questioned the coach's sanity.
Horn grinned at that last one.
"Our student fans are of the utmost importance to us because of the energy they bring in the arena, and (tonight) is the first time that they're going to have a chance to be there," he said. "Class is back in session, especially in SEC play.
"The big thing I want them to know, to me, they're a part of us. We're all in it together. I think it's going to take all of us to be the kind of team we want to be, on our home court in league play. It's important for me to understand that they know that's how I feel about them."
USC will hand out the free T-shirts to the first 750 students that come to Colonial Life Arena tonight as the Gamecocks attempt to break a two-game losing streak. The Garnet Army name was chosen over finalists such as "The Cockpit" -- a name that was used around 10 years ago -- and "Cocky's Corner."
Horn's message was simple. He wants the students to be there, presenting a unified look in their sections, and to be as loud as the shirts.
"I don't know if you can call camo loud," Horn said. "Supposed to have a blending effect. But yeah, they're important. Our student fans are vital to the atmosphere in our arena. We want them out and we want them loud."
It's not the first time Horn has reached out to the student body. He held an open practice before the season began and instructed the students how to cheer when the Gamecocks shot a 3-pointer.
Through 11 home games, students' attendance/impact has been a hit-or-miss affair. There's always the dedicated group of students in body paint and fright wigs and the sections of the arena behind one basket and across from the opponent's bench are usually close to full.
The SEC opener, a 68-56 win over Auburn, couldn't be used to launch The Garnet Army promotion since many of the students had not reported back from winter break yet. With No. 24 Florida (16-2, 3-0 SEC) coming in tonight and beginning a three-game SEC homestand, USC wanted to get as much good fortune as possible.
"I just heard it when I walked in there," guard Zam Fredrick said. "I think that's all right. Going to be wild, going to be crazy in there a little bit."
Whether it will be nutty enough to distract the Gators, winners of their last 10 games, is another story. Florida has, as usual, a great collection of talent.
It's not nearly as deep as when the Gators won back-to-back national championships, but it's still plenty heavy. Guard Nick Calathes is one of the country's most versatile players, running the point despite his 6-foot-6 height and leading the team in scoring, while third in rebounding.
Florida has gotten its league wins against the woeful SEC West and will step into the East for the first time. USC has dropped two straight league games, including its East opener to Tennessee the last time out, and is looking for a rebound.
The loss to the Volunteers showed the Gamecocks' resiliency, trimming a 17-point game into a one-possession affair in just over eight minutes. But it was still a loss, and Horn wasn't comforted by the rally because of the result.
"The important thing is we're not happy with what happened on Saturday," Horn said. "We lost. Period. We're not going to take much solace in the fact that we played like we felt like we should have played the entire game for the last 10 to 12 minutes."
Horn re-emphasized how important it was to begin well during every game, since the LSU and Tennessee losses each started with the Gamecocks down by double digits. Playing Florida, which always seems to have an outstanding performance at its fingertips within Colonial Life Arena, isn't going to be pleasant with another sluggish beginning.
He also stressed the importance of defending the home court. The Gamecocks (12-4, 1-2) are 10-1 at home this season and while life is going to be difficult for every team on the road, if you win every home game, that's at least an 8-8 league record.
The Garnet Army is being asked to help out. The players seemed to like the idea, even if the T-shirt may have not looked the best on their coach.
"I don't think he's going to jump in the crowd with them, but he was promoting it," Fredrick said, after his mouth hung open for a few seconds when attempting to describe the new look.
"Yeah, I saw his shirt," forward Dominique Archie said.
What'd you think?
"Um ... no comment."