COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina basketball passed the first test of its big week, but the more difficult half awaits Saturday.
The No. 24 Gamecocks (15-3) travels to face No. 5 Kentucky (16-2), a matchup of the two 5-0 teams in the SEC and a stiff test for a South Carolina defense, which is making life difficult on every opponent. But the Gamecocks wouldn’t have it any other way, with the seniors being on the stage they dreamed of being on when they came to South Carolina, buying into Frank Martin’s program.
“Before the (Florida) game, we were in the locker room talking to each other and saying, ‘These are the games you prepare for in your backyard when you were little,’” senior guard Sindarius Thornwell said. “You sit around in high school and watch the games on TV, these are the games you live for and play basketball for.”
South Carolina got here thanks, in part, to Thornwell’s return. The Gamecocks haven’t lost since the senior returned from a suspension that saw him miss 6 games in the nonconference season. They’ve won hard-fought games in the first SEC stretch, including a 57-53 win against No. 19 Florida on Wednesday.
That saw a clash of two teams that bludgeoned each other, playing physical, stifling defense. That has been South Carolina’s hallmark, as Martin wants it to be, as it has the No. 5 scoring defense in the nation, allowing 59.4 points per game with a suffocating perimeter defense. Kentucky brings in the No. 3 scoring offense, pouring in 93.3 points per game behind a heavy guard attack.
“We just are going to prepare the same way we do every day,” forward Chris Silva said. “We come in focused for every game. We are just going to come and get ready to play and get ready for the next game. That’s it.”
The Gamecocks have won at Rupp Arena since Jan. 31, 2009, a 78-77 upset win. Another one of those Saturday would give the Gamecocks a leg up on the SEC race, as it marks the lone meeting between their Wildcats this season.
“We just try to focus and look at one game and one day at a time,” Thornwell said. “Don’t let the moment get too big.”