Last season, South Carolina was able to overcome a February swoon to reach the NCAA Tournament and ultimately advance to the program's first Final Four. This year, the Gamecocks are fading in February again, and this time they might not have what it takes to recover.
South Carolina has lost five in a row and opens back-to-back games against ranked teams Tuesday when it visits No. 18 Tennessee, which is also looking for a bounce-back win.
Tennessee (18-6, 4-8 SEC) won at South Carolina 70-63 in late January behind 25 points by Lamonte Turner. That win ignited a six-game winning streak that included a big victory at Kentucky last week. But the streak ended emphatically on Saturday in a 78-50 loss at Alabama.
The 50 points were a season low for Tennessee, but coach Rick Barnes was more concerned about defense.
"From the very first possession, we were just ball watching," Barnes told reporters Monday. "We pretty much got what we deserved. It took us 10 minutes into that game before we even got close to being the defensive team we've been all year, and then our offense didn't help us at all because of guys just breaking out on their own thinking they had to make something happen quickly."
The Gamecocks (13-12, 4-8) also are coming off an ugly performance. They were blown out at home 65-41 by Florida on Saturday. South Carolina shot 27.8 percent from the field.
Frank Booker came off the bench to score 17 points and Chris Silva had 10 points against the Gators. Silva leads the team in scoring (14.3) and rebounding (7.6) and matched his career high with five blocks against Florida.
The Gamecocks' last three losses have come by an average margin of 21 points.
"We're a hurt team right now," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said after the loss to Florida. "We're a team lacking spirit."
The Gamecocks will need to find that spirit against the Volunteers, who are 10-2 at home this season.
Take away the loss to Alabama, and Tennessee had been playing good basketball.
Grant Williams leads the Vols in scoring (15.9) and is second in rebounding (6.0). Admiral Schofield is second in scoring (12.3) and first in rebounding (6.3).
Turner has been hot, too. The sophomore guard had scored in double figures in four straight games before being held to five points against Alabama.
Barnes is concerned that his team had been reading too many of its press clippings and wasn't blocking out the noise that comes along with success.
"I've said it before, you don't have to read newspapers and listen to people on social media and all that to pretty much see what's happening after every game," Barnes said. "I think it's a big mistake because the best teams don't even think about that during the year.
"Everybody wants to know why I don't compliment players. It's for a reason, because I think they want to be complimented and that's why they search out and look for people telling them they played well."