For the second consecutive year, South Carolina earned a double-bye in the SEC Tournament. Last season it didn't work out so well as the Gamecocks were upset by Georgia.
This year, South Carolina hopes to have a different outcome the second time around. The Gamecocks will battle Alabama in the quarterfinals on Friday, March 10, for the right to advance to the SEC semifinals.
The Gamecocks have been stuck in the quarterfinals for the last three years, and last week head coach Frank Martin said he really wanted his team to make it to Saturday's semifinals.
In order to do so, South Carolina will have to get by the Crimson Tide, who crushed Mississippi State on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals. In the only meeting between South Carolina and Alabama in the regular season, the game went to four overtimes in Columbia. Sindarius Thornwell netted 44 points and 21 rebounds, but it wasn't enough as the Crimson Tide came away with the narrow win.
Friday's game offers a perfect opportunity for South Carolina to get some revenge. There will certainly be a sense of urgency when the team takes the court.
"Next time we lose, our SEC season is done," Martin said. "We can't approach it thinking that there's another practice to play another SEC game. We have to approach it as a weeklong commitment and prepare as if we were going to play three games in three days."
After the regular season wrapped up last Saturday, the Gamecocks received two days off. That allowed for some much-needed rest, and it was obvious how much that time off helped South Carolina when it returned to practice on Tuesday.
"They flew around in practice today," Martin said on Tuesday. "The enthusiasm and energy was definitely real good at practice today. The postseason is about the players now. It's no longer about who we are as a team. The last 30 games have determined who we are as a team, which is a good team that can be real good when we play certain ways."
The Gamecocks can look at bigger goals like the NCAA Tournament some other day, but the main thing right now is to focus on Friday's game against Alabama. Take it one step at a time and try to move forward one round at a time.
Thornwell said the key for the Gamecocks to make a big run is to be consistent and make shots. Those two things go hand-in-hand as South Carolina has shown it can be a very dangerous team when the shots are falling. The Gamecock defense is always tough to beat, but there have certainly been some up and down performances on the offensive end throughout the season.
As of right now, South Carolina is solidly in the NCAA Tournament field, but the Gamecocks are not content with that. They have one goal in mind this weekend.
"We approach Friday trying to win the SEC Championship," Thornwell said. "We're trying to win this game to win the SEC Championship. That is what is most important right now. The NCAA Tournament, that's after the conference tournament."
Tipoff between South Carolina and Alabama is tentatively scheduled for 3:30 p.m. It can be seen on the SEC Network.
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**