On Dec. 30, Memphis beat South Carolina, 70-54, as Tigers guard Markel Crawford went off for 28 points.
Of course, the game probably would have been closer if South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell actually suited up. Instead, the senior, who is averaging 21.6 points per game, was suspended for a violation of athletic department policy.
“That probably helped us,” Memphis head coach Tubby Smith said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney.
If Memphis played South Carolina today, the rematch wouldn’t be as easy. Of course, given how hot the Gamecocks have been – they’ve won four straight games to reach their first Final Four in school history – a lot of teams would struggle against Frank Martins bunch right about now.
“Frank’s teams are very in-your-face,” Smith said. “(They’re) a very physical defensive team. In the Florida game, even though they split during the season, it was who could force or impose their will on the opponent. Certainly the Gamecocks do that in a way that no one else does, I think, in college basketball. They’ll be the best defensive team of the four teams in this tournament, I think. That’s why they’ve been able to advance and get to the Final Four.”
Kansas, meanwhile, fell short in its Final Four bid, despite being the No. 1 seed in the Midwest and playing its regional final in Kansas City. The Jayhawks (31-5) also played an Oregon squad without Chris Boucher. Didn’t matter. The Ducks (33-5) cruised to a 74-60 win on Saturday, as Bill Self fell to 2-7 in regional finals.
Smith, who won a national title at Kentucky in 1998, explained how difficult coaching – not to mention the competition – can be in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a matter of preparation,” Smith said. “You can’t put too much emphasis (on it). You know it’s a big jump. You know that the pressure-cooker gets a little hotter. Bu the greater the challenge, the greater the reward. I think also you don’t want to tighten up; you want to sort of lighten up because now this is the icing on the cake. You take Bill Self. Thirteen straight Big 12 championships? Unheard of. So he has nothing to be (ashamed of). He doesn’t have to defend anything. You can have the best players, but some days it’s just not your day and it’s the opposing team that’s really playing extremely well. That’s what happened in the Kansas situation. I don’t think it’s anything that they did poorly. I think it’s more about what your opponent did well. Certainly Oregon is on a mission.”
Oregon will face No. 1 North Carolina (31-7) in the Final Four this Saturday in Glendale at 8:49 p.m. ET. The winner will face either No. 7 South Carolina (26-10) or No. 1 Gonzaga (36-1) in the national championship April 3.