COLUMBIA -- Sam Muldrow shook his head, smiling as he did it.
There was really no good way to answer the question.
How does one guard UNC Asheville's Kenny George, a 7-foot-9, 360-pound center who's the tallest player in all of NCAA Division I?
"I don't know," Muldrow said sheepishly.
South Carolina's attempting to shut down George and the rest of the Bulldogs tonight so it can close out a five-game homestand with four straight wins. The Gamecocks (8-5) are on a season-high three-game winning streak and UNCA is going to be their easiest test for a while -- the next two games begin SEC play at No. 15 Vanderbilt before hosting No. 8 Tennessee.
George represents one of the biggest problems. Muldrow's 6-9 height makes him the tallest regular, the second-tallest on the roster behind 6-10 Mitchell Carter, which leaves him a full foot short of one of his defensive responsibilities. George doesn't start, averaging only 21.6 minutes per game, but Muldrow and the rest of the Gamecocks' post players know the big man will be checking in sooner or later.
And what he does when he's in there can turn the game around.
"Really ain't much you can do but keep your body on him, keep your hands up, try to keep him out of the lane," Muldrow said. "They got an out-of-bounds play where he stands right under the basket and just holds his hands up. Got to get to the spot before he gets there and try to shove him out of the lane, can't just throw it up there to him."
George is listed at 7-7 on the roster but UNCA coach Eddie Biedenbach, according to recent folklore, measured him and got 7-9. That was with George's shoes on, but still, the differential is plenty.
He's upgraded his stats this year after only playing around 10 minutes a game in 2006-07. George scores 12.5 points, grabs just under nine rebounds and blocks five to six shots per game.
Muldrow referred to the Bulldogs' inbounds play in which George guards the passer and sticks his arms straight up. It's given several opponents fits, since trying to navigate a clear path around the never-ending arms is akin to trying to throw a paper clip through a spinning fan.
"The inbounds play is the darndest thing you ever saw," coach Dave Odom said. "He just stands there, and you throw it, and he catches it and doesn't jump. Just catches it and goes up."
Odom has been running his big men harder the past couple of days after he questioned their toughness and desire during a 90-63 rout of Radford the last time out. Mike Holmes, who's shuffled from starter to bench and back, didn't play against the Highlanders after Odom deemed his practice efforts non-deserving and Muldrow has been mentioned several times as playing too shyly for the college game.
An early practice Thursday seemed to run it out of the entire team, according to Odom. The seventh-year coach said Friday he saw what he wanted to see.
"I had fun ... I don't know if they did," Odom said. "Big guys answered the bell (Thursday)."
UNCA offers the last chance to fix the early season's problems -- i.e., collapsing defense and playing well only in spurts. Continuing repairs during the SEC season could give the Gamecocks a repeat of last year, when four straight losses opened the conference slate and began a 4-12 disaster.
Shutting down George is a main concern, but just finding consistent play is almost as big.
"He's a factor because he can tip-dunk it and not jump. We don't have anybody averaging anything like that across the board," Odom said. "The big thing is effort. We've got to learn to finish games, and you can't finish games unless you finish plays."
UNC ASHEVILLE (10-3) AT SOUTH CAROLINA (8-5)
n When: 8 p.m. today
n Where: Colonial Center, Columbia
n TV: None
n On the Web: Live Gametracker stats at uscsports.com
n Tickets: Available at the box office
n UNC Asheville's probable starters: G Bryan Smithson 6-0 Sr. (17.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg); G K.J. Garland 6-1 Sr. (16.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg); C Vincent James 6-7 Sr. (11.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg); F Reid Augst 6-6 Jr. (10.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg); F Garrett Moles 6-7 Sr. (3.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
n South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 So. (18.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Jr. (16.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg); G Dominique Archie 6-7 So. (10.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg); F Chad Gray 6-7 So. (3.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg); F Sam Muldrow 6-9 Fr. (4.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
n Notes: The Gamecocks wrap up a five-game homestand and their non-conference schedule. ... USC has won three straight, its longest streak of the season. ... The Gamecocks lead the series 7-1 and won 71-51 last year. ... Coach Dave Odom said Gray would make his first career start tonight and Muldrow would probably get the nod over Mike Holmes. Evka Baniulis, who started USC's last game, will be in the rotation, as well. ... Guard Brandis Raley-Ross is out for tonight and probably the next game with a sprained knee. Odom is hopeful he'll be ready for Jan. 12, when the Gamecocks host No. 8 Tennessee.
n Up next: The Gamecocks play at No. 15 Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. Wednesday.