For all the good things South Carolina basketball coach Darrin Horn noticed during Saturday's 79-64 loss at second-ranked Kentucky, nothing irked him more than his team's lack of activity on defense.
Kentucky shot 59.2 percent, including 61.5 percent in the second half, when the Gamecocks actually out-scored the Wildcats 46-45. South Carolina hadn't allowed a shooting percentage higher than 50.9 all season, and that was against Ohio State, one of three elite teams the Gamecocks have faced this year, along with North Carolina and Kentucky.
In tonight's SEC home opener, the Gamecocks face a potentially prolific offensive team, Vanderbilt. The Commodores rank fifth in the league in scoring (75.3 points per game) and sixth in shooting percentage (46.4), but they have the SEC's No. 1 and 3 scorers: junior shooting guard John Jenkins and senior small forward Jeffery Taylor.
Jenkins averages 20.3 points and is a projected late first-round NBA draft pick, while Taylor averages 17.4 and is expected to be selected early in the second round.
Horn admires what 13th-year Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings has done in leading the Commodores to four of the past five NCAA tournaments (after one tournament appearance in his first seven years) by developing players, rather than by simply stockpiling many of the best recruits in the nation.
That said, Jenkins and Taylor were rated No. 15 and 52 overall in their recruiting classes by Rivals.com.
They slowly built stability Stallings now has - five senior starts, one junior - is "the way we want our program to look," said Horn, a fourth-year coach trying to move past SEC records of 5-11 and 6-10 the past two seasons. But his more immediate concern is preventing Vanderbilt from lighting up his team.
"Offensively, they're as good as, if not the best team in our league in terms of their versatility," Horn said. "Any time a team has two guys that you can write down for about 40 points every night, that's a dangerous basketball team."
At Kentucky, Horn said, the Gamecocks "weren't as active as we needed to be in guarding the dribble and flying around and covering up for each other (in help defense) the way we need to do to be successful defensively."
Horn and his players hope they don't have to say the same things, two days after this game, that power forward Anthony Gill said Monday about the Kentucky loss.
"We made a lot of mental mistakes," he said.
"We just weren't in the right positions at the right time in the game. When we needed stops, we didn't really bear down and get them."