On Saturday the Gamecocks had their best performance of the season on their way to breaking two ugly streaks.
South Carolina had lost five games in a row as well as the last five meetings against Georgia as the two teams entered Colonial Life Arena Saturday afternoon.
The Gamecock starting five spearheaded the win with Laimonas Chatkevicius, Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice, and Tyrone Johnson all scoring in double figures while Michael Carrera led the team in rebounding for the fourth consecutive game.
South Carolina's denying, suffocating man-to-man defense had been effective all season against opponents but it accomplished things of historical proportions Saturday afternoon. The Gamecocks forced the Bulldogs to shoot 22 percent from the field, the lowest field goal percentage for an SEC regular season game in Gamecock history. It also was the lowest opponent field goal percentage since the addition of the 3-point line for South Carolina.
With Saturday's win, the Gamecocks now have victories over three teams ranked in the RPI's top 40: Iowa State (16), Georgia (24), and Oklahoma State (33).
Their opponent Tuesday night also has a similar feature on its resume. The Arkansas Razorbacks also have three wins over RPI top 50 teams this season. Arkansas itself is ranked No. 21 currently in the RPI so if the Gamecocks can pull the upset in Bud Walton Arena, chalk another one up in the "good win" category.
The teams met twice last season, a 71-64 Arkansas win in Fayetteville in mid-February and a 71-69 upset win for South Carolina in the second round of the SEC Tournament. In the SEC Tournament win, then-freshman Sindarius Thornwell dropped 17 points while then-sophomore Laimonas Chatkevicius gave us arguably the best performance of his career, tallying 17 points off the bench.
Arkansas is coming off a loss in which a terrible call robbed them of a solid road win at Florida on Saturday. The Razorbacks have played four consecutive games where the game has been decided by five points or less. They are 4-2 in those games, having won three in a row before Saturday's loss.
They host South Carolina in the finale of their final two-game homestand of the season while they sit as one of six SEC teams tied for third place in the standings at 5-3.
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson is having his most impressive season yet as the head man in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks have won 16 of their first 20 games for the first time since the 1997-98 season. His team ranks in the top 20 nationally in points per game, offensive rebounds, assists, assist/turnover ratio, and turnover margin. His leading duo of Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls are the top SEC scoring duo and one of the best 1-2 punches in the country. Portis is one of only eight players in the country on the Midseason Watch List for the Wooden Award, Oscar Robertson Trophy, and the Lute Olson Award. Qualls' 15.9 points per game ranks fifth in the SEC but he has the second most 20-point games in the conference this season with eight. Portis leads the SEC in scoring (17.7 PPG) and field goal percentage (.563), while his 8.5 rebounds per game ranks fourth in the SEC.
To counter Portis and Qualls, Sindarius Thornwell will need a performance like in last year's SEC Tournament against the Hogs. I believe a similar showing is coming soon for the sophomore. He has averaged a team best 13 points as well as seven boards and three assists over the last four games. South Carolina will also need to minimize turnovers and use the momentum they built on defense Saturday to carry them to an upset victory. The Gamecocks eight turnovers vs. Georgia was a season low for the team in that category and the South Carolina defense currently ranks third in scoring defense in the SEC.
Arkansas has won 22 straight games when leading at halftime so getting off to a fast start is always important on the road but even more so in this case. The Razorbacks are 13-1 at home this season, the only blemish being a letdown loss to Ole Miss two weeks ago. The Gamecocks are 3-9 all-time at Arkansas, having lost three straight with the last win at Bud Walton Arena coming in January of 2008.
This season marks the first time South Carolina and Arkansas will meet twice in the regular season. The first of two will tip-off at 9pm ET on the SEC Network where Dave Neal and Will Purdue will have the call.