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3:30 PM PT4:30 PM MT5:30 PM CT6:30 PM ET11:30 PM GMT7:30 PM 北京时间4:30 PM MST6:30 PM EST, Feb 13, 2019
Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tennessee  Attendance: 19,407

No. 1 Tennessee not looking past improving South Carolina

(AP photo/Wade Payne)

On paper, the heavy lifting awaits top-ranked Tennessee. Over their final eight Southeastern Conference games, the Volunteers play ranked teams three times and face seven teams with winning records. A Saturday night visit to No. 5 Kentucky awaits.

But coach Rick Barnes isn't concerned that his team will get caught looking ahead to the weekend showdown with the Wildcats when South Carolina invades Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville on Wednesday night.

"I think our guys have so much respect for South Carolina, and they understand where they are right now," Barnes said Monday. "They have a great respect for our league, and I thought they went out and competed hard against Florida.

"I expect them to understand that today's preparation is really important and get ready for Wednesday's game. That's always what we've tried to do, and that's what I expect from them."

Tennessee (22-1, 12-0) has won a school-record 18 straight games, dating back to a Thanksgiving weekend overtime loss to Kansas in Brooklyn. The Volunteers made Florida their latest victim Saturday with a 73-61 decision that wasn't really that close.

Tennessee used 12-2 and 9-0 bursts in the second half to build a margin as high as 16 points in the final eight minutes. Four players scored in double figures, led by 16 points from All-America candidate Grant Williams.

The most encouraging thing about last week's wins -- the Volunteers dumped Missouri 72-60 on Feb. 5 -- was improved defense. After a stretch of victories fueled more by offense than lockdown defense, Tennessee got back to its roots.

It limited the Gators to three points for more than nine minutes during a dominant stretch, giving it the impetus to pull away.

"We talked long and hard about guarding the ball and spent a lot of time working on that," Barnes said. "We've talked about our ball-screen defense and rebounding. We are going to have to continue to emphasize. It goes back to what I always say -- it's about today. Can we get better today in those areas?"

South Carolina (12-11, 7-3) clearly has gotten better across the board since SEC play started. After entering conference action with a losing record, the Gamecocks now have a winning mark and hold fourth place by themselves.

Their latest success occurred Saturday at the expense of Arkansas. Overcoming a 13-point second half deficit, South Carolina dumped the Razorbacks 77-65 in Columbia behind 31 second-half points from freshmen A.J. Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant.

While the duo combined for nine turnovers, they also helped the Gamecocks can 16 of their last 22 shots from the field, as well as 10 of 15 3-pointers.

"We didn't hold our head down about the turnovers," Bryant said. "It happens."

The fourth place team in the SEC in mid-February would ordinarily be a lock for an NCAA at-large bid, but South Carolina's best non-conference win is over Coastal Carolina, ranked 153rd in the new NET rankings.

The Volunteers are the only current top 25 opponent on the Gamecocks' remaining schedule. If they can pull off the upset and take advantage of a manageable final seven games, South Carolina might sneak its way into the four-letter tournament.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 13, 2019

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