David Cloninger

USC approach: ‘We’re not supposed to be here, so why worry?’

It was in Greenville three weeks ago that I thought, “Just break the losing streak, and anything else is gravy.”

South Carolina did, thrashing Marquette to rid itself of that 44-year albatross, and at the hotel that night (or the wee hours of the next day, it all runs together), I was proactive and wrote the wrapup piece.

That’s the one of, “Man, what a great season; they accomplished so much; the program took a step and can’t wait till next year.” I’ve had it done since March 18.

It’s April 1 and I still haven’t run it. The Gamecocks keep surprising, keep upsetting, and now they’re here, in the Final Four, with a great shot at finishing this season without a loss.

My tune the last three games has been the same – no matter what happens, it’s been a great year. It hit me, though, when I walked out onto that new court, stamped with the Final Four logo where the national championship trophy was available for photo ops.

It has been a terrific season, no doubt. But they’re here now. This is the best chance the Gamecocks are ever going to have to win this thing.

Don’t they have to approach it that way?

“We still don’t feel like there’s any pressure,” P.J. Dozier said. “We don’t have anything to lose. And we’re going to come out and play like that.”

USC’s approach has been simple. We’re not supposed to be here, they say, so why worry? Ever since their name appeared on the big board, they have played so free of concern they wouldn’t be rattled if they found an NBA guaranteed contract in each locker, to be cashed in only with a win.

I’m sure they’ll have the same approach when the ball is tipped Saturday. Frank Martin responded to a question on pressure the other day by talking about his teaching days, when he didn’t have enough desks or books for his class but still bore the responsibility of teaching every child in there.

This is more me thinking out loud. I don’t know if the Gamecocks will ever make another Final Four. It was so far off the radar this year that it was ludicrous to waste time thinking of it – and then it happened.

They’re here now. They have a transcendent player, a confident team around him, and everybody else is still giving them the sidelong glance, wondering what they’re doing here.

They might get another chance. Basketball’s funny like that.

But they have this one now. And not thinking about it doesn’t change the reality – this chance has to be treated like the best one they’re ever going to have.

Game info

(7) SOUTH CAROLINA (26-10) vs. (1) GONZAGA (36-1)

What: National semifinal, NCAA Tournament

When: 6:09 p.m. Saturday

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

TV: CBS

Radio: 107.5 FM

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