Originally created 02/20/00

USC wins second straight



COLUMBIA -- For the first time in a long time Saturday night, South Carolina turned on the faucet of plenty.

And if only for once, the Gamecocks dispensed the drama and suspense early in an easy 82-61 win over Alabama before 8,552 at Carolina Coliseum.

"We haven't been in that position in a while," said sophomore point guard Aaron Lucas, whose team has endured its share of taut struggles this season. "It's been frustrating all year, coming up close."

It won't send shock waves rippling through the Southeastern Conference, but the Gamecocks like the sound of their two-game winning streak just fine.

"We didn't have to worry about throwing one away," said former South Aiken star Tony Kitchings, whose Gamecocks ended a nine-game losing skid in last Wednesday's 68-67 win over Mississippi State. "It felt kind of good just getting a big win like that, especially a back-to-back win. It kind of feels foreign to us, winning two games back-to-back."

The Gamecocks (11-14, 3-9 SEC) found themselves in a nine-point hole early in the first half but regrouped to take a 36-30 lead into halftime. They extended the advantage to as much as 23 in a lopsided second half.

South Carolina produced a statistical smorgasbord that included just five turnovers, the fewest in coach Eddie Fogler's seven-year tenure, and a season-high 22 assists.

"Twenty-two assists, five turnovers -- that's incredible for a team," said Lucas, who came off the bench to score 10 points and hand out three assists. "When you're playing at that level and you have games like that, most of the time you should win."

The Gamecocks held a 42-30 edge in rebounds and ruled the offensive boards by a 15-6 margin. Kitchings, who started for the second straight game, hauled in a career-high 11 rebounds and scored eight points.

Kitchings said Fogler "challenged me about two weeks ago to start rebounding. I just started going harder to the boards."

Senior guard Herbert Lee Davis registered a team-high 15 points to lead an evenly-distributed evening. Twelve players scored, and the Gamecocks' bench outscored the starters, 46-38. Alabama's bench mustered 11 points.

Freshman guard Chuck Eidson had just two points and was 0-of-7 from the field, but he pulled down a career-high nine boards and dished eight assists.

"He didn't score a field goal," said Fogler, whose team shot a season-best 17-of-21 from the foul line, "but he played a heck of a game."

The Crimson Tide (11-13, 4-8) cut it to 39-36 with 18:38 left, but the Gamecocks fashioned a 14-4 run in the next 5:26 to remove most doubt.

The sequence summed up the night nicely for South Carolina; five players scored during the spree, highlighted by a transition 3-pointer by junior forward David Ross that put the Gamecocks up 48-36 with 15:19 left.

South Carolina pushed the margin to 69-52 with six minutes left when Lucas threaded a deft alley-oop jam to Davis that unearthed the largest roar of the night.

Kitchings' was fronted by Erwin Dudley, one of the conference's premier freshmen who finished with six points on 3-of-10 shooting.

"Kitchings was good," Fogler said. "Kitchings rebounded the ball well."

The Gamecocks began the game in a 2-3 zone but the Crimson Tide shot them out of it quickly, hitting four of its first five 3-point attempts to take 14-5 lead when guard Terrance Meade drained a trey from the left wing with 13:28 left.

South Carolina took 12 3-pointers on its first 21 possessions and made three, but Davis lit the fuse by connecting on two treys in a one-minute span.

From there the Gamecocks got their inside-out game going. Kitchings scored from close in to draw South Carolina to within 20-18, then freshman Travis Kraft drained the first of two straight 3-pointers -- and the second of five consecutive baskets for the Gamecocks -- from the right corner to put the Gamecocks ahead for the first time and for good, 21-20.

Alabama finished 7-of-21 from 3-point land.

"We had open 3-point shots and it just didn't seem to go," Crimson Tide coach Mark Gottfried said.

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.