NEW YORK — Little more than 30 days have passed since Florida was on the court against the Gamecocks. But the South Carolina basketball team the Gators are studying and readying to play Sunday
Florida’s Devin Robinson quickly said “not at all” when asked Saturday if South Carolina looks like the same team they saw earlier this season.
“Watching them on film and on TV, beating Baylor by 20 yesterday, that threw me off right there,” Robinson said. “They are playing with a lot of confidence. They are on a roll right now.”
South Carolina and Florida will meet for the third time this season Sunday with everything on the line. The winner of the game, which starts at 2:20 p.m., will claim the season series and advance to the Final Four in Phoenix.
The Gamecocks have gotten here with three wins in the NCAA Tournament after not having any for 44 years. And they have done it with a combination of their signature defense and an offensive blitz unlike any seen this season for the Gamecocks, who are averaging 83.7 points in the tournament.
“They are making shots,” Florida’s Kasey Hill. “They are scoring the ball. They’ve got five guys averaging double figures in the tournament. I think that’s the main thing. They’ve always played defense, so I don’t think that has changed.”
Hill watched USC’s first two games of the tournament, when they ran over Marquette and upset Duke to advance to New York. On Friday, the special offensive streak continued as South Carolina blew out Baylor in a 70-50 win.
The Gators already know what to expect defensively from the Gamecocks after seeing their style twice this season, but it’s the changed offensive play that makes the Gamecocks a scarier opponent in the postseason.
“It really wasn’t the team that we played all season,” Hill said. “They’ve got it going good.”
The Gamecocks and Gators split their meetings this season, with the home team winning both times. South Carolina won 57-53 in Columbia in January before Florida won 81-66 in Gainesville on Feb. 21.
Since then, the Gators say players like PJ Dozier and Duane Notice have stepped up their game to provide a more balanced offensive attack alongside SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell.
“They are excelling in their roles because their team is built around Thornwell and the outside players, they are playing good as well,” forward Justin Leon said. “I think that’s a big thing that they are doing now.”
But importantly for the Gators, they feel they are on the same upward trajectory as the Gamecocks. So come Sunday afternoon’s rubber match, both teams figure to be at their best at the right time.
“I feel like they have more energy and edge than last time we saw them,” forward Kevarrius Hayes said. “We are definitely a different team than we were back then as well. It is going to be a great matchup. I feel like this is both of us peaking right now and it’s the greatest competition level you will be able to see. Tomorrow’s game is going to be high competing and high emotion and high intensity. Everybody is going to be fighting to win.”