COLUMBIA -- Dave Odom has enough problems, trying to fend off the increasing cries of a getting-angrier public, questioning if he's the right guy to lead South Carolina's basketball program.
Odom's got the talent aboard to wipe those storm clouds away. But after games like Wednesday's 92-84 loss to Baylor, it gets that much tougher.
"I think I called a timeout and my message to them then was, 'Guys, for the first time, you're playing afraid right now,'" Odom said after the Gamecocks blew a 20-point first-half lead to the Bears, in the midst of a staggering 47-12 run. "We've got to change that. That shows youth and inexperience and no understanding to who we're playing against.
"We've just got to do a better job of getting these guys to grow up."
The game showcased everything that's wrong with the Gamecocks. They've got the individual skills to win -- USC posted a 50-point first half against the Bears and ended with four players in double figures.
But the team effort is still lacking, and after Wednesday turned from way-ahead to way-behind in what seemed the blink of an eye, the Gamecocks were wondering what happened.
"We were all looking around, asking each other questions," guard Brandis Raley-Ross said. "We got into an offensive funk and we got into a defensive funk sort of at the same time. I don't know how to explain it."
USC led 44-24 with 4:39 to go in the first half. The Gamecocks trailed 71-56 with 11:02 to play in the second. They rallied to cut the deficit to four but never got over the hump.
The answer for the collapse comes in several parts. Baylor switched to a zone defense that gave the Gamecocks fits, shutting down the penetrating lanes Devan Downey's so fond of and forcing perimeter shooting. USC's best attribute -- speed -- was short-circuited by the zone and caused the Gamecocks to work out of their half-court offense, which led to turnovers and low-percentage shots.
Those shots turned into long rebounds, another of the team's biggest weaknesses, and Baylor was off and running. USC couldn't change back to defense quick enough and was burned for either fast-break layups or, when a defender managed to keep pace to the hoop, a quick pass to the 3-point line and a buried jumper.
Odom said youth was a big cause of it, which makes sense. The Gamecocks only have one senior (Dwayne Day) and most of their top eight players are either true freshmen or guys that sat out a good portion, if not all, of last year.
But 10 games into the season, two full months of practice behind, the players felt youth shouldn't be an excuse.
"Everybody ... should understand now how hard you got to play to win," said Dominique Archie, who labeled the collapse full of "grade-school mistakes." "I don't want to hear youth again."
When USC built that 20-point lead, it was hard to see how the Gamecocks could play any better. They were contesting every shot, hitting from the arc and from inside and aced all 15 of their first-half free throws.
Then the Bears switched to a zone, got a five-point play and reeled off 11 straight points, kicking off a 16-2 run to end the half.
"We just needed a basket, just to calm it down," lamented Zam Fredrick. "I guess people will start playing zone until we prove we can beat it."
Odom hesitated to call the loss his worst because he said he doesn't rank losses. But there was no doubt it stung, and with College of Charleston coming to town Saturday in the last game before the holiday break, Odom realized the challenge ahead.
"I can't remember the last time that one of our teams went as cold offensively and as cold defensively at the same time as we did in the last five minutes of the first half," Odom said. "I think we kind of lost our head a couple of times when we actually should have just settled down and played great defense.
"We just didn't play smart."