South Carolina and Gonzaga on the defensive
GLENDALE, Ariz. — South Carolina and Gonzaga have a lot more in common than just being in their first Final Four.
Experience has been a key word around the two programs this week in advance of their national semifinal game on Saturday.
A bigger word that applies is defense. They don’t play the same style but they both are effective in holding down an opponent.
Guard Duane Notice is the defensive focal point for seventh-seeded South Carolina.
“Just as your point guard initiates your offense, your on-ball defender initiates your defense,” Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said Friday. “When your point guard’s good offensively, your team is good offensively. When your on-ball guard is good defensively, your team is good defensively. They go hand in hand.”
The man top-seeded Gonzaga (36-1) relies on to lead its defense is 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski.
“The rim protection that we have this year is different than anything we’ve been able to put out there,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “We got the bulk, the strength, size of Karnowski which allows us to not have to double-team. So then we’re not forced into rotations. But then we also can combine that with the athleticism, the shot-blocking of Zach Collins and Killian Tillie helps.”
Ask the Gamecocks (26-10) about Gonzaga’s defense and rim protection is mentioned again and again.
“Their bigs are huge,” South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell said. “They rebound well and we are big on offensive rebounding. We are big on attacking the rim. They do a great job keeping you out of the rim and make you take pull-up jumpers. We must do a good job moving their defense so we can get easier shots.”
Freshman Maik Kotsar will have the main responsibility of handling Karnowski.
“They have huge bodies and they are tall,” the 6-10 Kotsar said. “Just the physicality of it, we have to guard and not let them get easy paint touches.”
Gonzaga, which has allowed 60.9 points per game, has kept three of its four opponents under 60 points in the NCAA Tournament, while South Carolina’s scrambling zone has kept its opponents off balance and out of sync. The Gamecocks allow 64.9 points per game.
“We have been working on it all week, just trying to find ways to exploit their defense,” Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams said. “I feel like we’ll be fine. We just need to follow the game.”
EXPERIENCE MATTERS: Before this tournament, South Carolina’s last NCAA win was in 1973. Gonzaga has been one of the tournament’s mainstays winning 21 games in the 18 consecutive years the Zags have reached the NCAA under Few.
“I’ve always felt that experience helps to get back. Experience doesn’t help the game you’re playing,” Martin said. “The game you’re playing is a game. And how you manage yourself day to day to day allows you to be prepared to succeed when the game starts.”
FEELING GOOD: Thornwell, the Southeastern Conference player of the year, missed Thursday’s practice when he wasn’t feeling well. He practiced Friday and sounded good to go.
“I had a headache, fever and stuff like that. I am fine now. Everything is going good,” he said Friday. “We were glad it occurred on Wednesday so I could get it over with. Everything worked out and I am glad to be here with my teammates.”
FOCAL POINT: The distractions of the Final Four are everywhere for the players, from media commitments to fans being there every time they turn around.
“That is what you are always worried about. People come up to you when you’re on top,” Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins said. “That’s just what it is. You have to focus on the right things and stay focused. I am glad my dad and the people around me keep my head in the game.”