Familiar foes South Carolina, Florida meet in East final
By JIM O’CONNELL
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — There’s no need for introductions in the East Regional final. Scouting reports aren’t really necessary.
Fourth-seeded Florida and seventh-seeded South Carolina, two Southeastern Conference foes, will meet today at Madison Square Garden with the winner advancing to the Final Four.
This will be the third meeting between the teams this season with the home team winning both. They are two tough, defensive teams that can get out and run in transition.
“They’re super physical. They pressure a lot, deny a lot of passes. They’re all pretty fundamentally sound. They take a lot of charges and kind of swarm the ball when you drive,” Florida’s Canyon Barry said of the Gamecocks on Saturday. “We have to guard them too. I think it could be a defensive battle and whoever can execute better has a good shot of winning.”
The first game between the teams was a slugfest with South Carolina prevailing 57-53. The Gators missed all 17 of their 3-point attempts and KeVaughn Allen, Florida’s first-team All-SEC guard, scored 1 point.
“I learned that they’re a very aggressive team,” Allen said. “We can’t let them turn us over. We just got to be patient. They’re a team that likes to force you into turnovers. We just got to stay poised, stay together.”
The Gators won the rematch 81-66 with Allen scoring 26 points and they held South Carolina to 39 percent shooting.
Allen struggled in the first two NCAA Tournament games, scoring a total of 11 points on 3-for-21 shooting. He broke out with a career-high 35 points in the regional semifinal.
“I’m very confident. Whether I miss shots, I still just got to keep shooting it because if I don’t, I kind of feel like I’m hurting my team by not shooting it,” Allen said. “The first two games, it didn’t go well for me how I wanted it to go as far as shooting it. I think I found ways on defense to help my team and just try not to hurt them.”
This is South Carolina’s deepest run in the NCAA Tournament while Florida has been in the Elite Eight six times since 2006, including back-to-back national championships in 2006-07.
Their paths to this regional final couldn’t have been any more different. South Carolina beat third-seeded Baylor 70-50, while the Gators dispatched eighth-seeded Wisconsin 84-83 in overtime on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Chris Chiozza.
“I think I heard from everyone I ever met,” Chiozza said of the text messages he received Friday night.
Chiozza described South Carolina’s defense as “hectic. They have guys flying all over the place.”
South Carolina’s star is Sindarius Thornwell, the SEC player of the year and a consistent scorer who has averaged 26 points in the NCAA Tournament.
“Their defense is similar to ours,” he said. “They’re long, they’re athletic. They deny. They play hard. One through four can guard the ball. They protect the rim.
“They’re so long and they’re fast and. It’s just tough. They make it hard for everything. They don’t back down.”
South Carolina coach Frank Martin said he finds the physical reputation for both teams funny.
“We’re not physical because we foul and push, we’re physical because we don’t get out of the way,” Martin said. “Some teams get out of the way. We don’t get out of the way.”
Some things to know about the matchup:
QUICK TURNAROUND: The Wisconsin-Florida game ended at 12:50 a.m. Eastern. The Florida players were back at the Garden for media availability at 2:50 p.m. and the game is set for 2:20 p.m. Sunday.
“Already worried, not going to lie to you, about where our emotions are and our level of mental and physical fatigue,” Florida coach Mike White said. “And I’m sure South Carolina feels that way as well.”
White said the familiarity of the opponent will help both teams with the short turnaround.
CONSTANT REPLAYS: Chiozza can’t help but smile even 12 hours after hitting his game-winning 3.
“Every time I look somewhere somebody’s sending it to me or I see it on Instagram or something, so I’ve seen it quite a bit,” he said. “I enjoy it every time I watch it.”
SEC EXCHANGE: When you talk about success in the SEC the first thought is football. Not this year. With Kentucky still alive, the SEC has three of the final eight teams and is guaranteed one berth in the Final Four.
“They don’t really give the SEC any credit for being the best conference, but we have three teams in the Elite 8, so that speaks for itself right there,” Chiozza said.
NO SCORE: At the first media timeout of the first meeting between Florida and South Carolina the score was 0-0.
“I turned around to one of my assistants and said, ‘Is the score right? Has no one scored yet? Incredible.'”
BETTER D: Florida came up with the best defensive effort of the entire NCAA Tournament, holding Virginia to 39 points in a 26-point second-round win.