Originally created 03/17/04

Gamecocks deny tournament curse



COLUMBIA - South Carolina has a long NCAA Tournament history. Unfortunately, most of it's bad.

The 10th-seeded Gamecocks (23-10) bring a gym bag full of NCAA futility into their first-round match with Memphis (21-7), a seventh seed, Friday at Kansas City. They haven't won a tournament game in 31 years. And that, appropriately enough, came in a consolation game.

"There's no Chicken Curse here," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said Tuesday night. "I don't want to hear any of that here."

It's difficult for fans to think of anything but the school's mythological, long-held theory of failure - especially when the Gamecocks falter in the NCAAs.

The 1974 team had entered its fourth straight tournament with depth and high hopes. But the Gamecocks fell to Upstate rival Furman and ended the glory days under their "Old Irishman," the late coach Frank McGuire.

It took 15 years for South Carolina to make it back, led by one of McGuire's favorite guys, George Felton, a reserve on that 1974 team. However, the Gamecocks had an awful shooting performance and lost to North Carolina State.

Several more years passed until South Carolina bumped into the NCAAs again. Coach Eddie Fogler's 1997 club won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title with a remarkable 15-1 conference record that included a pair of wins over defending national champ Kentucky.

The team went in as a second seed and was primed for major advancement like never before. Instead, the Gamecocks fell hard to No. 15 seed Coppin State, 78-65. The loss was one of only four upsets of a No. 2 seed by a No. 15 seed since brackets were expanded to 16 seeds in 1985.

South Carolina rebounded a year later with another NCAA Tournament trip, this time as a third seed. Again, the Gamecocks stumbled, losing 62-61 to upset specialist Richmond.

Odom shrugs off talk of losing. The Gamecocks have already leaped hurdles no one, including himself, thought possible. They were picked to finish last in the SEC yet won 20 games and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years.

"This is the next opportunity to have this program get better," Odom said.

"We're not going to change history. We can't do that. But we can change the feelings of our people."

Team leader and point guard Mike Boynton says the team doesn't worry about history or curses since the players weren't around when it happened and can't do anything about it now.

"One team plays better than the other and they win," he said. "That's the way it works."