Third time's the charm: Gamecocks and Gators battle for Final Four spot

Third time's the charm: Gamecocks and Gators battle for Final Four spot

New York, N.Y. – Way back at SEC Media Days in October, Florida point guard Kasey Hill was asked which player on another SEC team should people watch out for.

His answer was South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell. 

Five months later, Thornwell is the SEC Player of the Year and the star of the NCAA Tournament. His tremendous and consistent play has helped the Gamecocks advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history. 

Hill played with Thornwell in high school, and he's always seen the potential in the South Carolina senior. 

"I'm not surprised, honestly," Hill said of Thornwell's fantastic season. "What he's doing now is being Sindarius. Just playing basketball…he can do everything. Shoot, post up, rebound, and he's a competitor." 

South Carolina and Florida will meet on Sunday at Madison Square Garden for a chance to move on to the Final Four. The two teams are SEC foes, and obviously very familiar with each other. The teams split the two regular season meetings with each squad winning on their home court.

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The Gamecocks held the Gators to 0-for-17 from three-point range in their win while Florida heated up on offense in the return trip to pick up a 15-point win. 

Both teams are playing great basketball, but South Carolina has really picked it up after a slump at the end of the regular season.

What's the difference?

"Offensively, whenever we played them, they didn't have all five guys averaging in double figures in scoring," Hill said. "They have it going right now." 

The Gators have a lot of respect for the way the Gamecocks play on the defensive end. 

"They're a great team," Florida's Canyon Barry said. "They play tough defense. We're going to have to guard Sindarius Thornwell. He's playing really well, P.J. Dozier is playing really well. We have to stay locked in to our scouting report." 

Florida is coming off an emotional win over Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 where Chris Chiozza nailed a tough 3-pointer as time expired in overtime. While the three teams South Carolina has played have struggled with the Gamecocks' tough, physical defense, Florida is used to going against that particular look, and it could be an advantage for the Gators.

"I think it will be a hard-nosed defensive game," Hill said. "Both teams are very, very tough." 

On South Carolina's side, the players and coaches are expecting another physical battle. Both teams went through several of those during the regular season in SEC play, and that style of play will likely return on Sunday.

"At the end of the day, they're also very physical defensively, very disciplined (and) they don't get out the way," South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said. "A lot like us."

**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**