February 17, 2009

Raley-Ross returns (again)

The big breaks always seem to sideline Brandis Raley-Ross.

Last year, he was among the nation's leading 3-point shooters before a slump derailed him. This year, he started South Carolina's first game and hit the deck just before halftime with a sprained knee.

He sat for six games, in his familiar place on the bench, and wondered why his chances at claiming the spotlight always put him right back in the wings a day later.

"I haven't been frustrated," he said. "I would say a little disappointed that I couldn't get it going."

Taking a cue from last year, Raley-Ross knew the only way to get back on the floor was to keep working. He knew he'd get back to playing eventually -- the Gamecocks' bench is so thin that everybody has to play -- but how many minutes he'd get was up to him.

More shots, more time in the gym, more disciplining himself to be better. Most of all, more waiting, as the Gamecocks shucked the three-guard set for another option when forward Sam Muldrow blossomed.

The umpteenth second chance came, as it always did. Coach Darrin Horn pointed to Raley-Ross as the Gamecocks were losing at Alabama over the weekend and told him to get in.

He's got no plans to leave this time.

Raley-Ross scored 13 points in 21 minutes as the Gamecocks rallied past the Crimson Tide, pushing their record to 18-5 (7-3 SEC) and Raley-Ross' name further up the rotation list. He was the only shooter who shot well in Tuscaloosa, finishing 5-of-8 from the floor and 2-of-4 from the arc.

When the rest of the team, averaging seven 3-pointers going into the game, was a combined 3-for-17, Raley-Ross' 10 second-half points were just the right tonic.

"I've been telling Brandis for about two weeks that he was due to bust out," Horn said after the game. "He's spent a lot of extra time in the gym. He's contributed in a good way defensively, rebounding and just doing little things. I think it was just a matter of time before he did that."

Raley-Ross posted up from long range and let fly, causing the small USC contingent to cover its eyes since nobody else could find the range. He made them regret it -- his shot bottomed through and the Gamecocks were back in the game.

He drove the lane a couple of times as well, performing his impression of teammate Devan Downey's shredding finger-roll, and also had the ball in his hands for the go-ahead shot with time winding down.

That 3-pointer glanced off the side, but at least he had the guts to take it.

"I wasn't thinking it was the game," Raley-Ross said. "I was just hoping it would go in."

It didn't, but his confidence soared anyway when Mike Holmes ended the suspense with a buzzer-beating tip-in. The Gamecocks celebrated and came home while Raley-Ross checked another rise from the ashes off his personal list.

Perhaps he'll stay there this time.

"We go into every game thinking we can win," he said, trying to explain USC's late-game heroics this year. "We just play our way, play the same way we've played all season. We've built a mentality."

The same kind as his, apparently.




 

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