David Cloninger

Attitude plus technique equals Elite Eight

It’s not surprising that South Carolina’s defense is drawing raves for its Elite Eight run, but it’s not like it was some undiscovered secret. The Gamecocks were the top defensive team in the SEC for most of the season, led the country in 3-point defense for the majority of it and were causing headaches on the scouting report two weeks before the game.

Frank Martin explained what he looks for in a player and it always starts with defense. Defense creates offense, which relieves the burden of finding a scoring star and teaching him how to get his hands up without the ball.

“Attitude comes first. We’ve got to have guys that are going to believe in our mission, that are going to believe in what we want to do,” Martin said after Friday’s shackling of Baylor. “Once they believe, then we can teach them the technique. It all starts with our mindset. We have got guys that are completely bought into what we do.”

That’s apparent from the gleeful intensity the Gamecocks bring to their defense. It’s like they’re daring the opponent to step onto their turf; once they do, it’s crowd, wrap, tip, block and steal by the guard-at-all-costs Gamecocks.

The Gamecocks started the dominant defensive run in the NCAA Tournament by holding Marquette, the top 3-point shooting team in the country, to 73 points. Duke, with enough McDonald’s all-stars to buy its own franchise, managed 81. Baylor, coming off games of 82 and 91 points, mustered 50.

USC forced 18, 18 and 16 turnovers in those three games, scoring a combined 52 points off them. Those have been a large part of the Gamecocks’ resurgent offense.

“Defense is our staple, and we can’t control if the shot goes in,” said point man Duane Notice. “We can’t control the referee making calls, but what we can control is our hustle, heart and effort and control how hard and intense we are on defense.”

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Starting lineups

South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 So. (13.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Sr. (21.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg); G Duane Notice 6-2 Sr. (10.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg); F Maik Kotsar 6-10 Fr. (5.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg); F Chris Silva 6-9 So. (10.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg)

Florida’s probable starters: G Kasey Hill 6-1 Sr. (9.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G KeVaughn Allen 6-2 So. (14.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg); F Devin Robinson 6-8 Jr. (11.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg); F Justin Leon 6-8 Sr. (7.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg); C Kevarrius Hayes 6-9 So. (6.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg)

Next game: The winner plays the Xavier-Gonzaga winner in the Final Four in Glendale, Ariz., at either 6 or 8:30 p.m. Saturday.