On the plane ride to the game at Kentucky on Jan. 21, P.J. Dozier started having back spasms. It forced the sophomore to miss the loss to the Wildcats, and while he returned the next game, he wasn't himself.
"It took a few games to get back to being comfortable playing and not worrying about the pain," Dozier said. "I can't really remember exactly when, but it took a few games."
It was a painful and scary moment for Dozier, and his performance for the next couple of weeks suffered.
"That was my first time having any kind of back problems, so I didn't really know how to cope with it," Dozier said. "It took some time mentally, for sure."
However, the Columbia native has saved his best basketball for the most important time of the year. Dozier has been a key cog in the Gamecocks' Final Four run, and has been South Carolina's most productive scorer behind Sindarius Thornwell. In four NCAA Tournament games, Dozier is averaging 15.3 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game.
Dozier showed during the regular season that he could step up and deliver a big performance, but there were usually a few down games in between those performances. In the NCAA Tournament, Dozier has been very consistent, and the key has been his aggressiveness. Earlier in the season he would settle for jump shots, but in the postseason Dozier has emphasized driving the basketball and using his 6-foot-6 frame to gain the advantage on his opponent.
"It's definitely something the coaching staff gets on me about during practice and each game," Dozier said. "Just stay aggressive, attack the rim and use my size to finish over the defenders."
Right now it seems like Dozier is playing the best basketball of his career, and that's a statement he agrees with. The sophomore has become more consistent and has been one of the players that has stepped up behind senior Thornwell in the NCAA Tournament.
Dozier, like the rest of the team, is continuing to maintain the same mindset he's had since the tournament started against Marquette.
"We're going to come in night in and night out with nothing to lose," Dozier said. "We're going to lay it all on the line and compete for 40 minutes."
The four games so far in the NCAA Tournament have been invaluable for the younger players on the team. Not only have they received more game experience, but it's been game experience on the biggest stage in college basketball for players like Hassani Gravett and Rakym Felder.
"They've done a great job," Dozier said. "I was telling them a couple days ago just how great they've taken this year to grow, not just on the court, but off the court as well. The maturity that they've shown throughout this season has been great."
Dozier's performances have helped South Carolina advance all the way to the Final Four. It's been an incredible journey that the Gamecocks don't want to end.
"We've been dreaming about this since the year started," Dozier said. "This dream didn't occur just because we got to the NCAA Tournament. It's a blessing."
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**