New York, N.Y. – During the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, South Carolina had the luxury of playing two teams that were similar in what they tried to do. Both Marquette and Duke loved to shoot the 3-pointer, and had excellent athleticism all across the court.
The Gamecocks were able to pick up wins against both teams, and now they find themselves in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden in New York. They'll take on third-seeded Baylor on Friday with the winner advancing to the Elite Eight.
However, the Bears will present a much different challenge than both Marquette and Duke gave South Carolina. The Bears are also talented at all five positions, but they play tremendous, physical difference that is similar to how the Gamecocks play on that side of the ball.
"They have guys that are committed to winning, and they just have a winning program," Sindarius Thornwell said. "The way their bigs attack the rim right now and rebounding, and the way they attack at that paint and the guys make shots, they're a good team. We're going to have a tough matchup tomorrow."
Marquette and Duke were good teams, but were not known to be particularly fierce on the defensive end. Meanwhile, Baylor holds opponents to a 40.4 field goal percentage and 63.5 points per game. To compare, South Carolina gives up a 40 percent field goal percentage clip and opponents score 65.2 points per game on average.
Baylor uses its length and tremendous zone defense to throw opposing teams off their gameplan. Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. provide an excellent one-two punch in the frontcourt, and the duo has combined for 122 blocks on the year.
Motley is also a force on the offensive end and leads Baylor with 17.3 points per game. He is a hair short of averaging a double-double as he pulls down 9.9 rebounds per game.
"He's tough," Chris Silva said of Motley. "But you can't see what you see on film and be scared or anything. But he looks good."
The Gamecocks are expecting a physical, defensive battle with the Bears, and have been using the week of preparation to adjust to the different styles of play. The key will be to make crisp passes and knock down the open jump shots you get.
"They run more zone than Marquette and Duke," freshman guard Hassani Gravett said. "We definitely have to make sure we can move the ball around the zone. On the defensive end, we have to make sure we're paying attention to their screens and back cuts that the post men do, and as always pressure the guards at the top."
At 27-7, Baylor has had an outstanding year and were ranked No. 1 in the country earlier in the season. The Bears lost four of seven entering the NCAA Tournament, but began the postseason with an 18-point win over New Mexico State before battling to a four-point win over Southern Cal.
Baylor head coach Scott Drew and his players respect the heck out of Gamecock star Sindarius Thornwell, and guard Ishmail Wainright said the Bears spent about three hours studying Thornwell.
"They exaggerate so much, it was only two and a half," Drew quipped.
All jokes aside, Baylor knows it won't be the only strong defensive team on the court Friday night.
"They have a very good team, and they have multiple weapons and people that can step forward," Drew said. "Their defense is their biggest weapon. They get a lot of transition baskets because of it, and whatever they don't get there they get on the offensive glass."
Tipoff between the Gamecocks and Bears is scheduled for 7:29 p.m. on Friday, and can be seen nationally on TBS.
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Artie Walker**