COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler is at last watching the team he expected to see all season, even as Gamecocks fans on the Internet speculate about his future.
The Gamecocks (13-8) given up for dead following a 94-61 home loss to Kentucky are back on the NCAA bubble after last week's victories against Georgia and Vanderbilt.
"What did I say after Kentucky? It was one loss," Fogler said Tuesday. "I said I'd consider it a blip on the radar screen until I saw otherwise. This is a week or two later and right now, I'm right. We'll see."
Suddenly, South Carolina is alive in tournament talk - and not the NIT kind.
The Gamecocks face a large test Wednesday at No. 21 Alabama, which is 13-0 at home this year.
CollegeRPI.com ranks the Gamecocks 41st, better than many NCAA bubble teams that got in past tournaments.
Senior forward Antonio Grant had consecutive career games, setting his career scoring high of 18 points against Georgia and breaking it four days later with 24 against Vanderbilt. Freshman forward Rolando Howell, who spent much of last week wondering about an ankle sprain and muscle strain, is feeling good and ready for a stretch run. And the Gamecocks have been playing without Chuck Eidson, the team's rising sophomore star who tore his ACL in a victory over Vanderbilt on Jan. 17.
"I think right now we are definitely a bubble team," Fogler said.
It hasn't been the easiest time for South Carolina, which started the year with postseason hopes but went 3-5 in January. The loss to Kentucky, the worst in Carolina Coliseum history, set the Internet ablaze with talk about firing Fogler.
One site, www.palmettojournal.com, has a "Fogler Watch" that includes a fan poll on whether Fogler should stay (50 to 20 to stay as of 3 p.m. Tuesday), a list of relevant articles and a message board.
A fan called "Losing Effort," wrote, Rick "Pitino would be a great choice but would he even consider the Gamecocks?" Another poster named "Brian" said, "Fogler is a great coach, when he is motivated."
"Fans and you people tend to forget we may have lost our best all-around player (Eidson) and we're still in contention for the NCAA tournament," Fogler said.
After the Kentucky loss at home, Fogler spoke with the team's upperclassmen, Grant, David Ross and Aaron Lucas, about where the team was headed. Soon after, Ross said, came the turnaround.
"I think a sense of urgency reached us in the locker room," Ross said. "We said, 'Hey, if we play this way, we're not going to have a chance" at the NCAA tournament.
After Alabama, South Carolina has five games left, three of them at home.
Ross said he and some others talked to Grant, a senior who has had an up-and-down career due to injuries, about meeting his potential when the Gamecocks needed him most. Grant responded with the two best games of his life.
"I don't know what it was," Grant said. "I just love to play, I have a passion for the game."
That passion could carry South Carolina somewhere no one expected a month ago.
"We want to be in the NCAAs," Grant said. "It was a goal of ours before the season. Now we just have to play hard each and every game to make it happen.
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