For three seasons, South Carolina coach Darrin Horn
has tried everything he can think of to stress to senior center Sam Muldrow
the importance of consistency and never taking so much as one play off. In the Gamecocks’ Southeastern Conference opener against Vanderbilt last Saturday, that lesson hit home.
The Gamecocks were ahead by eight points in overtime when Vanderbilt’s Jeffrey Taylor
drove for what would have been a meaningless layup in the final seconds. But Muldrow was having none of it. He jumped up to challenge Taylor’s shot, deflecting it with his fingertips.
The block was Muldrow’s 10th of the game and helped etch his name into the school’s record books. He had already racked up 16 and 14 rebounds, so that final block gave him just the second triple-double in program history. Despite picking up his fourth foul with 4:53 to play in regulation, Muldrow dominated overtime with five points, including a huge three-pointer, and four blocks.
“Sam’s one of those unique guys that has the ability on both ends of the floor to impact the game,” Horn said. “The thing that’s interesting about Sam is that when he plays with a certain demeanor and approach, the numbers follow. When he comes out with a certain mindset to just be active, and impact the game with his energy and length, he plays better.”
Therein lies the rub, the difference between Muldrow being a decent player and All-SEC, or even SEC Player of the Week, an honor he earned on Monday. Horn has preached to Muldrow the importance of bringing it every night and has used every means possible to get his point across.
“You name it and we’ve done it,” Horn said. “We’ve watched film, challenged him, met privately, called him out, encouraged him. Anything we can do to constantly remind him how important he is to our team and what impact we can have. Obviously it’s not going to be a triple-double or double-double every night. But just be a presence.”
South Carolina’s first triple-double was put together by Chuck Eidson
against South Carolina State Nov. 29, 2002. Eidson was a stat-sheet stuffer that night, collecting 25 points, 10 boards, 10 assists and five steals.
Horn is eagerly awaiting Muldrow’s follow-up performance at Alabama on Wednesday night. Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant
doesn’t need to watch tape of Muldrow’s triple-double to know how dangerous he can be.
“He brings a dimension that very few guys can in terms with his ability to stretch the defense shooting the three and his ability to affect the [Gamecocks’] defense with his energy and shot blocking,” Grant said.
Despite a nine-game winning streak, a 12-2 record and a huge victory over then-No. 10 Kentucky last Saturday, Georgia still hasn’t impressed the coaches who vote on the ESPN/USA Today poll (though they did slip into the Associated Press poll at No. 24). But that snub by his fellow coaches is fine with second-year coach Mark Fox
, who has never mentioned the ever-growing winning streak to the Bulldogs and doesn’t even know what day the major polls are announced. (Monday, coach.)
“I’m proud of our team,” Fox said. “But it’s always on to the next [game]. We certainly look back quickly at our last game and evaluate what we could have done better and what we did well, but it’s always on to the next one.
“This is a great league and it’s a grind. Fortunately for us, we played well in our first game. I’d have hated to be 0-1 and then go on the road for the next two [at Vanderbilt Jan. 12 and Ole Miss Jan. 15].”
Fox has to feel good about a couple of things that were evident in the Kentucky victory. One, preseason SEC Player of the Year Trey Thompkins
, who suffered a serious high right ankle sprain in preseason practice, is getting closer to full strength, as he proved with 25 points, seven rebounds and a couple of blocked shots against the Wildcats.
The injury had hampered Thompkins for more than a month, including in Georgia’s only losses of the season, to Notre Dame (in double overtime) and Temple in the Old Spice Classic in November.
Second, the Bulldogs, who entered the game shooting 61 percent from the free-throw line, shot 88 percent (30-of-34), against Kentucky. Fox attributes that to improvement from two key players who are going to get fouled a lot, Thompkins (11-of-12 in the Kentucky game) and junior guard Gerald Robinson
(9-of-10 against the Wildcats).
“They started out slow [from the free-throw line] this season, but we felt like both of them would get back to shooting them like they are capable,” Fox said.
PARSONS BACK ON TRACK:
Gator fans who may have been concerned about preseason All-SEC pick Chandler Parsons
’ offensive struggles needn’t have worried too much. He was bound to get untracked eventually. And besides, his worth to the Gators extends way beyond scoring.
Parsons scored 17 points in the Gators’ SEC opener against Ole Miss and 18 the game before that against Rhode Island, giving him exactly as many points (35) as he’d accounted for in his previous five games. But the 6-10 senior’s best role may be as a facilitator, or point forward. He’s passed for five or more assists in Florida’s last four games.
Parsons took just four shots in one of the Gators’ more impressive wins of the season, at Xavier, but he accounted for 11 rebounds and seven assists. He’s averaging 10 rebounds in his last three games.
Bottom line, in the last three games, when Parsons passed for 17 assists (against just seven turnovers), shot .538 from the field, .778 from three and .833 percent from the line, Florida’s offense has run a lot more efficiently (.469 from the field, 77.3 points per game). The Gators averaged 19.3 assists in that stretch. Good passing big men, as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson
proved back in the day, seem to have an infectious effect on their teammates.
RELEFORD A ROADIE:
Alabama coach Anthony Grant couldn’t have been prouder of freshman point guard Trevor Releford
in his SEC road debut at Mississippi State last Saturday. The game had been circled on the Bulldogs’ calendar for months because it marked the return of suspended point guard Dee Bost
, who scored 14 points but struggled shooting from the field, three-point line and free-throw line.
Releford led the Tide in scoring (17 points) on 7-of-11 shooting and also contributed four assists and three steals in 32 minutes as Alabama won handily, 75-57.
“In his first experience in an SEC game on the road, he played very well and controlled the tempo of the game the way we needed it to go,” Grant said.
The game was further proof that Releford continues to grow into the job. In his last three games he’s produced an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4:1 (12 assists, three turnovers). In league games, where every possession counts, protecting the basketball is of paramount importance for a point guard.