Gamecocks-Gators matchup will be defensive showcase

First one to 60 wins?

Gentleman’s bet or unyielding defense, that might be how it goes.

Two of the best defenses in the SEC collide Wednesday when No. 19 Florida visits No. 24 South Carolina. Each team averages 8.4 steals per game, with the Gamecocks holding one more on the season (143) than the Gators, while USC’s 13.5 forced turnovers per game leads the conference with the Gators’ 11.4 ranking second.

Each team makes its living on defense, the turnovers creating offense and easing the pressure on them to be the best shooters and scorers on any given night. The Gamecocks are judged so hard on defense that the most relaxing part of the game is when they’re trying to put the ball in the basket.

“You rest on offense,” Sindarius Thornwell said. “You’re happy when you get the ball, you’re like, ‘Yes! I can catch my breath now.’ ”

That focus and intensity has allowed USC to become the best defense in the league, the Gamecocks allowing a scant 59.8 points per game and ranking No. 1 in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency. Thornwell averages 2.5 steals per game, with P.J. Dozier right behind him at 2.1.

Florida is butting heads with them. The Gators’ Kasey Hill has 1.9 steals per game and Chris Chiozza averages 1.5. Florida has given up 67 points per game against the toughest schedule in the country.

So what’s in store Wednesday at Colonial Life Arena?

Two teams that won’t back down an inch from what got them here, to an early showdown for first place in the SEC.

“They’re just so sound, they’re just so intense,” Florida coach Mike White said. “They’re one of the best defensive programs in college basketball.”

“We’re not going to change how we play,” counterpart Frank Martin said. “We got to go out and play through our personality.”

The Gamecocks won their past two games, but Martin wasn’t pleased how they did it. The defense was good, but USC’s offense spent each game fumbling the turnover it just got back to the opponent.

“We handle it the way we did the last two games, there are going to be a lot of breakaway dunks,” Martin said. “And that’s not going to be good.”USC coughed up 20 and 22 turnovers against Ole Miss and Tennessee, respectively, after having just six against Texas A&M. A double-digit lapse against Florida and it’s going to be a long night.It’s a different Florida team than the one USC beat 73-69 last year. White’s first year was decent, but he was implementing his system to a group of guys he didn’t recruit. This year, though, his returnees know what they’re doing and they replaced a significant loss – Dorian Finney-Smith – with College of Charleston graduate transfer Canyon Barry.Martin sees the edge of White’s playing career in his team. White never took a play off during his days as an Ole Miss guard, and Florida is channeling that intensity.“I think you’re starting to see a team that’s playing through Mike’s personality,” Martin said.Just […]