Baylor relieved to see South Carolina as opponent (Mar 24, 2017)

BY AP • March 22, 2017

Sometime on Sunday night, the Baylor Bears looked at the East Region of this NCAA Tournament and suddenly had a good feeling about what they saw.

Baylor defeated Southern California in the second round to advance to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time since 2010.

In its previous trips, Baylor was ousted by higher-seeded and Final Four-bound Duke, Kentucky and Wisconsin teams.

But when the dust settled on Sunday night, Baylor found itself as the highest remaining seed in the East after top-seeded Villanova and No. 2 Duke were sent home.

Next up, the Bears (27-7) face seventh-seeded South Carolina (24-10) in the Sweet 16 on Friday evening at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Baylor fans are relieved they don't have meet up with Duke, whom the Gamecocks dismissed from the tournament.

South Carolina shot 63 percent in the second half and raced past the Blue Devils, scoring 65 points in the final 20 minutes to upend Duke 88-81.

The Blue Devils led South Carolina at halftime 30-23 but the Gamecocks got past their jitters over facing Duke in time to steal momentum and the game.

"Our guys were very, very nervous," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. "This is a new platform. It's the first time in the history of our university that we're going to the Sweet 16. Our guys were nervous to start the game. I was nervous for our guys to start the game. Once the half started to settle down, I was happy with how we were defending."

So now that the Gamecocks have knocked off Duke, will they be able to carry over the momentum against Baylor?

While South Carolina has reached new heights for its basketball program, Baylor's bar is set a little higher.

The Bears were ranked No. 1 in January after winning their first 15 games of the season. Although Baylor only had to defeat the 14th (New Mexico State) and 11th seeds to reach the Sweet 16, the Bears are battled tested this season. Their resume to this point includes victories over three teams that are still alive in this tournament (Oregon, Xavier and West Virginia).

Baylor's feelings about reaching the regional semifinal at MSG are a mixture of excitement and motivation to keep going.

"As a kid you dream about moments like this and for it to be here is a blessing," Bears guard King McClure said. "We don't take it for granted and, like we said in the locker room, we're not done. So we have more work to do, but it's really a blessing to be able to play in the gym that a lot of people don't get the opportunity to play in."

Intangible factors aside, South Carolina will have to find a way to score around Baylor's 6-foot-10 forward Johnathan Motley and 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil, and defend Motley and a barrage of sharpshooting guards.

Motley is averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds in the tournament, which falls right in line with his season numbers.

South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell scored 24 to lead the Gamecocks against Duke, while guard Duane Notice and forward Chris Silva each added 17.

"We're a good offensive team," Martin said. "We're better on defense, but we're a good offensive team and we play together on offense and that's why we're playing next week."