Some coaches might worry over facing the NCAA scoring leader in the first round of a postseason tournament. But for South Carolina coach Darrin Horn, this is all familiar territory that he and the Gamecocks have been in all season. An SEC schedule that pitted the Gamecocks against scoring phenoms like Jodie Meeks and Nick Calathes are all experiences that Horn believes will help his team as they enter the first round of the NIT tonight against Davidson and the hot-shooting Stephen Curry.
"I think he's like a lot of really good players we've seen this year, and anytime you play a really good player I don't know if you're going to stop a guy that shoots 20-plus times a game and has put up 30 all year long," Horn said. "I think the key against someone like him is hopefully you make him work for everything and you don't let him get anything too easy. We've seen that with the likes of Jodie Meeks and some others, but he's a terrific player. He's definitely important to their team."
Curry, who led Davidson to an Elite Eight appearance last season, finished this season with a 28.6 points per game average for the top individual scoring performance of the season. Though the Wildcats were a top 25 team for much of the season and finished the year with a 26-7 record, they were left out of the NCAA Tournament.
With NCAA bubble teams like Davidson in the NIT, Horn knows this edition of postseason tournament play is going to be a tough challenge for the Gamecocks (21-9).
"I think you look at that field and it shows you how hard it is to get into the NCAA Tournament now and how much things have changed. You go through there and there's a lot of names that pop out that are either major conference teams that had really good years, or basketball programs that have been really (good)," Horn said. "Without question, it's an extremely difficult field."
Though those good teams were left out of the NCAA, the result is a tougher NIT field and intriguing match-ups such as Curry versus USC point guard Devan Downey. Both players average over 20 points per game and are without doubt the leader of their respective teams.
The two will be going up against each other on the court all night, making for plenty of interesting talk between fans and analysts of who the better player is. But Horn believes that just seeing the two players on the same court is more important than what they do against each other.
"I think it's more about two guards playing in the same game more so than them going at it. He's a terrific player, there's no question and we know that Devan is too, so hopefully that's as appealing as the match-up itself," Horn said.
While he is known as a point scoring machine, USC guard Zam Fredrick knows the Carolina defense is capable of stopping Curry from single-handedly earning a win just as long as they continue doing the things they have been doing. Earlier in the season, USC managed to hold both SEC shooting stars in check, allowing Calathes just 20 and 22 while Meeks earned just 18 and 20 in two outings.
"Same way you defend everybody else. Stay close to him, make it tough for him, make him do things he doesn't want to do, contest all his shots, don't try to give him one, make all his shots contested shots. Just play solid defense," Fredrick said.
While Fredrick admitted the Gamecocks were disappointed they didn't make the field of 65 for the NCAA Tournament, the senior says the team will be ready to go when the ball is tossed up, no matter who the opposition is.
"They didn't expect us to do as well as we did this year, but we proved a lot of people wrong," Fredrick said. "You'll know a lot in the first five minutes of the game whether we're ready to play or not. I think we'll be ready though. I know we'll be ready."
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