Originally created 02/14/98

Gamecocks are looking for late-season solutions



COLUMBIA -- Wondering what's wrong with South Carolina? Well, so is point guard Melvin Watson.

"I wish I had the answer right now, why the team is feeling the way it is," Watson said Friday. "It is puzzling to see we haven't put it together."

While it's not unusual to talk about the Gamecocks' basketball problems through the years -- they have only four 20-win seasons in the past 25 -- this season has looked trouble-free.

The team's 18-4, ranked 15th in the country and just about a lock for its second straight NCAA tournament trip.

But flick on the radio dial for any sports talk show. In what should be the team's most glorious season since coach Frank McGuire's boys were 22-5 two decades ago, fans want to know, "What's the problem?"

Maybe it's the lacklustre play like in their 74-63 win over Alabama this past Wednesday.

Maybe it's all those close victories, eight by six points or less.

Maybe it's those lopsided road defeats to Ole Miss (73-54) and Kentucky (91-70).

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you why we're playing with lack of emotion, that's done, that's last game," coach Eddie Fogler said Friday.

This week, Fogler took his worries to Watson, the club's senior captain. The two talk regularly about team matters, and the coach wondered if Watson knew what the trouble was.

"He brought up some valid points," Watson told WOLO-TV. "It shouldn't be like that this time of year."

Watson said the team would hold a players' only meeting to talk it through before today's home game (6 p.m., Fox/SportSouth) with Mississippi State.

The Gamecocks face road games with Arkansas and Florida next week, then finish the year at home against Georgia and Kentucky.

Watson knows everyone, including the NCAA tournament selection committee, will be watching South Carolina's stretch run.

"This is a crucial time of year for everybody in college basketball," Watson said, "and for us to be playing the way we're playing is a very big concern. It could get very ugly."