South Carolina-Georgia Preview
South Carolina's Michael Carrera and Georgia's J.J. Frazier are establishing themselves as two of the SEC's most improved players.
The No. 25 Gamecocks and Bulldogs will witness different versions of Carrera and Frazier than they have seen in the past in Tuesday night's matchup at Georgia.
Carrera is a senior forward who came into this season with a career average of 7.6 points and was at 11.6 through the first 17 games. He is averaging 23.8 points on 54.0 percent shooting in his last four while also pulling down 10.8 rebounds per game.
Carrera posted a second straight double-double with 20 points and 11 boards in Saturday's 78-64 home win over Alabama.
"He's playing right now with a lot of confidence," coach Frank Martin said. "We always knew he was tough, we always knew he'd play stronger than what he looks and now he's playing like a complete basketball player and I'm real proud of him for that."
He'll be unrecognizable to Georgia (11-8, 4-4) after averaging 6.3 points on 26.0 percent shooting in seven meetings.
Frazier is a junior guard who's averaged 7.8 points and shot 36.4 percent in four games against the Gamecocks. He has emerged to average a team-best 16.5 points, including 24.3 on 52.2 percent shooting in his last three.
His second career double-double was an impressive one with 21 points and a career-high 11 assists in Saturday's 83-73 defeat at then-No. 17 Baylor.
"He has really matured as a leader on the floor," coach Mark Fox said. "He had a double-double the other night versus a ranked team on the road with 11 assists and also double figures in points. I think he's a more complete player than he was a year ago, the game has slowed down for him."
These teams have been stingy defensively, with South Carolina (19-2, 6-2) limiting foes to 38.4 percent shooting to rank second in the SEC and Georgia third at 38.5.
The problem for the Bulldogs in consecutive defeats is that they have allowed opponents to shoot 91 free throws to waste their own 50.4 percent shooting.
''Our defense is going to have to improve for us to accomplish anything,'' Fox said.
South Carolina seeks its first 20-win season since 2008-09 and first NCAA Tournament berth since 2003-04. It is back in the Top 25 after dropping out a week ago following a 78-69 loss at Tennessee on Jan. 23.
The Gamecocks bounced back with two victories by an average of 12.0 points behind Carrera and Sindarius Thornwell, who totaled 29 points last week.
South Carolina's 64-58 victory at Georgia on Feb. 17 ended slides of six straight overall on the road and five in a row in Athens. Martin and his players pointed to that victory as creating momentum for a strong finish to 2014-15.
"I remember before playing them we were like in a slump and coming into Georgia and us beating them was the turning point, and we had momentum the rest of the season so this year we're going to try to keep up with the same thing," Thornwell said.
The Gamecocks swept both regular-season meetings before the Bulldogs earned some revenge with a 74-62 victory in the SEC tournament quarterfinals.