COLUMBIA -- They're willing to bypass the traditional turkey dinner for a couple of wins.
"My mother's coming down, make sure we got something to eat after the game Thursday," said South Carolina guard Zam Fredrick on Tuesday, just before he boarded the bus taking the Gamecocks to the Old Spice Classic. "We just want to play well and get back on track so we can feel good about ourselves."
USC begins play in the Classic today, taking on Penn State at the Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla. While most of their friends and families will be tucking into a monstrous meal, the Gamecocks are hoping to overcome a monstrous field and emerge in four days with at least two, hopefully three victories.
"I think as a team, we feel pretty good," said swingman Dominique Archie. "We're ready to rebound and play better."
USC (2-1) fell to Southern Cal in the biggest test thus far last week and is hungry to get back in the win column. The field of the Classic has drastically improved since USC coach Dave Odom first scouted it out, part of ESPN's desire to make the Classic a Southern version of the Maui Invitational.
"When I signed up for (the tournament) two years ago, I thought it was going to be Winkem, Blinkem and Nod or Jesse and James or somebody down there that we'd be able to just go down and relax three days, win three games and come home," Odom said. "It's turned out to be anything but that."
USC will face a 2-0 Penn State squad before Friday's matchup against either N.C. State, which just fell out of the Top 25 last week, or Rider, which has had NBA scouts checking on 6-foot-11 forward Jason Thompson all year.
The rest of the field is Top 25 teams Kansas State and Villanova, plus local favorite UCF and George Mason, the Final Four shocker from two years ago. The Gamecocks, who return from Orlando for one home game before two more road games (at No. 24 Clemson and vs. Providence in Philadelphia), are hoping to prove they can hang with some of the best teams in the nation.
It won't be a death knell if USC doesn't win in Orlando, as guard Brandis Raley-Ross admitted. But losing three before another two tought games wouldn't be good.
"We got enough talent in here to play to that type of level. We're an SEC team, so we're going to see this type of talent down the road," Raley-Ross said. "Our goal is to come down here and hopefully come out with a positive effort and positive result."