Two down, one to go

dcloninger@thestate.comMarch 14, 2014 

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”
------------------- LENNY KRAVITZ

ATLANTA -- I asked Brenton Williams, Sindarius Thornwell and Frank Martin before the tournament if they were overwhelmed by the thought of winning five games in five days to get to the NCAA tournament. Each had the same answer.

No, because five in five would be enough to make any player’s mind crumble. Only way to do it is to say, “We got a game today, let’s win it” and then see where they are.

Where they are is to win three in three. And while the mountain remains steep, the peak is not nearly as unreachable as thought two days ago.

Nobody’s talking about it. Never mess with a winning streak, as Crash Davis would (more profanely) point out.

“We just try to live to fight another day, like coach preaches,” Thornwell said. “We don’t look forward. We don’t look over any team. We just try to focus on the next team in front of us. If we win, we focus on the next team. We don’t skip over anybody.”

It’s the right approach for a number of reasons. First, if the Gamecocks stop thinking, “Hey, we’ve won two games by playing pretty well” and start thinking, “Man, if we win three more games, we’re in the flippin’ NCAA tournament,” they’ll melt quicker than left-out ice cream. The first time you start to believe your own invincibility is when you lose.

Second, the next opponent is Tennessee. USC hasn’t beaten Tennessee in 13 straight tries, since Dave Odom was coaching. Then again, the Gamecocks hadn’t won an SEC tournament game since Dave Odom was coaching before this year, and hadn’t won two in the same tournament since … Dave Odom was coaching.

Third, like Arkansas before it, Tennessee has all the pressure on it. The Volunteers are the ones that need to win to get to the NCAA tournament. USC is still at the point of, ‘”Hey, we lose, we weren’t going to go the distance anyway.”

The Gamecocks can’t start thinking about what’s ahead of them. They just have to remember what got them here, which is fighting, battling through every second, not letting any opponent run get them in too deep of a hole. Everybody’s contributing, whether it’s Brian Steele flying into the lane for a kick-out to a wide-open 3, or Laimonas Chatkevicius throwing his weight around for career-high points, or the law firm of Thornwell, Williams and Notice filling up baskets like they’re throwing fruit at Christmas.

USC is having fun and winning games. They may have fun and lose a game in the next three days, but as long as they don’t treat it like a business, like they must win, they’re going to come back to Columbia with a lot to build on. A trophy shaped like a pyramid isn’t great for a foundation.

But it would make a dandy topper.

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