David Cloninger

Gamecocks’ defense blackens Baylor’s bright lights

Frank Martin to SI Kids reporter: Attitude most important on defense

South Carolina men's basketball coach Frank Martin talks about the Gamecocks' defensive effort in the Sweet 16 win over Baylor.
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South Carolina men's basketball coach Frank Martin talks about the Gamecocks' defensive effort in the Sweet 16 win over Baylor.

The announcers mused that Baylor seemed frustrated by South Carolina’s defense.

You’d be frustrated too if you had a pack of rabid wolverines in your shorts.

The Gamecocks’ defense surrounded, smacked, shuttered and smoked Baylor so effectively Friday that the Bears’ highlighter-yellow uniforms seemed to have Gamecocks spilling out of them. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Johnathan Motley took his jersey off only to find little bits of Maik Kotsar, Rakym Felder, Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and Chris Silva in it.

It’s like playing a football team, somebody said. It’s that other teams have players and the Gamecocks have warriors, somebody else said.

Everybody marveled at how effective it was Friday, even those who had seen it all year. USC has found whatever it was missing in February.

“Attitude comes first. Once they believe, we can teach them the technique,” coach Frank Martin said, describing his defensive teachings. “It’s beautiful to us, which is what matters.”

USC’s defense lost some of its mojo in the final month of the season. Yes, they were playing better teams, but they’d also beaten better teams earlier in the year; the Gamecocks seemed to be running out of gas.

It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as vicious. Something had to be repaired.

Maybe it was just getting to this point of the season that was the biggest turn of the largest screw. The Gamecocks, heedless of the pressure of the moment, are somehow playing loose and confidently while adding fangs and incisors to that wild-animal defense.

Against All-American forward Motley, USC was on him from the tip and let him get nothing clean. Then Thornwell sat at the table and described it with an airy shrug.

“Whoever’s on him, don’t let him go middle and on the dribble, the helpside comes from the baseline,” he said. “Make his catches hard.”

That simple?

Sure, if you believe that strongly in it.

USC didn’t want to say it because it didn’t get here by thinking what could happen.

But there is that old expression, “Offense sells tickets. Defense wins ... ”

Well, you know.

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