USC, Tigers turn to hoops, open conference play today

Now that the hubbub from their bowl games are over, South Carolina and Clemson will change the focus from the gridiron to the hardcourt when they open conference play today, both at 4 p.m.

The Gamecocks (8-6) travel to No. 2-ranked Kentucky to start the Southeastern Conference stretch of the schedule, while the Tigers (8-6) open Atlantic Coast Conference play at home against Florida State.

Kentucky (14-1) has won six straight since its only slip-up of the season against Indiana, and it looks to take that momentum into league play against South Carolina, which is facing a top-five team for the third time this season – it lost to then-No. 1 North Carolina on Nov. 25 in Las Vegas and lost to then-No. 2 Ohio State at home on Dec. 17.

South Carolina may have turned its season around with a 58-55 win at rival Clemson on Dec. 4, beginning a stretch in which its won six of seven with the lone loss being an eight-point defeat to then-No. 2 Ohio State.

Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn’s team may be figuring things out on offense, scoring a season-high 79 points in Tuesday’s win against South Carolina State. The game is a homecoming for Horn, who is a native of Lexington, Ky., and played and coached at Western Kentucky before going to South Carolina.

The Wildcats have no shortage of proven scorers with six players averaging double digits. Doron Lamb leads the way with 14.9 points per game, followed closely by the outstanding frontcourt duo of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (13.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Anthony Davis (12.7 ppg, 10.6 rpg).

Davis has posted eight double-doubles this season, including four straight. He’s the first Wildcat with four consecutive double-doubles since DeMarcus Cousins in 2010. Kentucky has been dominant on the boards the past two games, outrebounding Arkansas-Little Rock 50-23 and grabbing 26 more rebounds than Louisville.

Kentucky lead the all-time series 44-10 – including 23-2 in Lexington – and has won three straight since a rare three-game losing streak to the Gamecocks in 2009-10. South Carolina is 8-12 all-time in SEC openers but is 3-0 record under Horn.

Two other teams coming off victories will open ACC play Saturday at Littlejohn Coliseum. Clemson erased a nine-point second-half deficit, thanks to 22 points from Devin Booker, to defeat East Tennessee State on New Years Day. Florida State emphatically ended a two-game losing streak with a 85-56 win over Auburn.

The Seminoles (11-5) allowed just 16 first-half points and got 22 points from Michael Snaer and 15 points off the bench from Ian Miller in the win. Senior forward Bernard James has been the team’s best all-around player, averaging a team-high 8.7 rebounds (6th in ACC) and shooting 58 percent (58-of-99) from the field to add 9.6 points.

James is also blocking 2.6 shots a game, third-best in the conference, helping the Seminoles lead the ACC with 98 blocks. Snaer, a junior guard, leads the team in scoring (13.6 points), which is 11th-best in the ACC. Two veteran guards – Luke Loucks, a graduated student, is averaging 3.9 assists, fourth-best in the conference, while senior Deividas Dulkys, a native of Lithuania has the second-most steals in the conference (25, 1.8 average).

The Tigers have been led all year by upperclassmen. Senior guard Tanner Smith has done a bit of everything, leading the team in assists (4.2), and adding 10.6 points and 5.7 rebounds. Fellow senior guard Andre Young leads the team in scoring (12.9) and is second in assists (3.6), while Booker, a junior forward, has a team-high in rebounds (6.9) and averages 11.1 points. Junior forward Milton Jennings has been a nice contributor as well (8.2 points, 5.1 rebounds).

Clemson allows 57.5 points a game, second best in the ACC, but is 11th in scoring offense (63.7 points).

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