South Carolina looks to knock off a second straight ACC opponent on the road when the Gamecocks face the No. 9 Virginia Cavaliers on national television Sunday (ABC, 3 p.m. ET) in Charlottesville, Va.
Sophomore guard A.J. Lawson scored 20 points in South Carolina’s 67-54 win at in-state rival Clemson last Sunday, the Gamecocks’ first win at Littlejohn Coliseum since 2011.
South Carolina (7-4) held the Tigers without a field goal for the final 6:38, limited them to just 28-percent shooting (14 of 50), and scored 15 points off 22 turnovers.
That’s the kind of stingy defensive effort more commonly associated with Virginia (9-1), whose 56-44 win over Stony Brook on Wednesday was the eighth time the Cavaliers have held an opponent under 50 points this season. They lead the nation in field-goal defense (32.1 percent) and points allowed (44.2 per game).
Gamecocks coach Frank Martin gave a nearly 600-word answer Thursday when asked by a reporter to explain why Virginia’s pack-line defense is so unique and so effective.
“As a competitor, it’s like putting your head in a blender because they make it so hard, because they don’t get out of the way, they don’t make mistakes,” he said.
“… They never ever reach, get off balance. They never open their hips, so they don’t give you the ability to drive, and they’re great with their hands. They’re active. They rarely have their hands down. Their hands are always in passing lanes and disrupting passing, and shooting, so they make the fewest mistakes of any team in the country.”
Virginia has a 26-24 lead in the all-time series against South Carolina, who competed in the Atlantic Coast Conference from 1953-71 before becoming a member of the Southeastern Conference in 1991.
The Cavaliers beat the Gamecocks 69-52 in Columbia, S.C., last December, but four players who combined to score 52 of Virginia’s points — Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Jack Salt — are no longer with the defending national champions.
Five different players have led Virginia in scoring at least once this season. Senior forward Mamadi Diakite (13.2) is the only player averaging in double figures, with three others between 8.9 and 9.5 points per game.
Virginia has a 22-game nonconference home winning streak, dating back to a 66-57 loss to West Virginia on Dec. 3, 2016.
The Gamecocks have won three of their last four games. Lawson leads the team in scoring (16.3), assists (2.7) and steals (1.4). Senior Maik Kotsar averages 10.1 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds.
South Carolina outrebounded Clemson 41-32, grabbing double-digit offensive rebounds (11) for the ninth time in 11 games.
“We’re going against a very physical, tough-minded team, and we’ll have to be ready for that,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett, whose team is close to full strength for the first time this month.
After missing three games following surgery on his wrist, senior guard Braxton Key played seven minutes off the Virginia bench against Stony Brook. He missed his only shot and grabbed one rebound while playing with a soft cast on his left (non-shooting) hand.
–Field Level Media