No. 6 South Carolina, No. 11 Oregon look to spring more surprises

Nobody saw South Carolina coming before the season. Oregon was out of the postseason discussion before running the table to the Pac-12 tournament title last week.

If there’s one thing the sixth-seeded Gamecocks and 11th-seeded Ducks have in common, it’s the ability to surprise the skeptics.

Oregon Ducks a No. 11 seed in NCAA Tournament, to face South Carolina -

The two schools will clash Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, guaranteeing one of their Cinderella stories will continue for at least one more game.

South Carolina (26-7) was picked dead last in the 14-team Southeastern Conference in the preseason media poll. The Gamecocks were coming off an 11-21 season with four conference wins, and three of their top four scorers departed, including GG Jackson to the NBA.

Yet coach Lamont Paris, in just his second year on the job, helped the Gamecocks roll to a 9-2 start in the league that featured wins over Kentucky and Tennessee. They finished one game out of first place in the SEC.

“We have a good way about us. Our culture is exactly where we want it to be,” Paris said. “We’re ahead of schedule, probably.”

Veterans Meechie Johnson (13.8 points, 4.2 rebounds per game) and B.J. Mack (13.6 points, 4.7 rebounds) were joined by breakout freshman forward Collin Murray-Boyles, who is now garnering NBA attention.

In 11 games between Feb. 3 and March 14, Murray-Boyles shot an incredible 70.3 percent from the floor to average 16.7 points until a 1-for-9 outing in South Carolina’s SEC semifinal loss to Auburn. He averages 10.6 points and is the team’s leading rebounder at 5.9 per game.

Oregon (23-11) won three times in three days to secure the automatic bid in the Pac-12’s final season as a bona fide league. The Ducks stunned Arizona (now a No. 2 seed) 67-59 in the semifinals, thanks in part to a hotshot freshman of their own, Jackson Shelstad.

Cooper and Mack lead the way as South Carolina upsets No. 5 Tennessee,  63-59 – University of South Carolina Athletics

Shelstad made three 3-pointers and scored 21 points while Jermaine Couisnard went 4-for-8 from deep for 20 points in that one. Then Oregon beat Colorado 75-68 in the championship game, with center N’Faly Dante pouring in 25 points on 12-for-12 shooting.

Ducks coach Dana Altman said the message to his team is the same as it was after the Arizona upset: Enjoy it for five minutes, then it’s on to the next assignment.

“South Carolina doesn’t care that we won the Pac-12,” Altman said. “We just gotta refocus, forget about that and get ready for Thursday.”

Altman is a perfect 7-for-7 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament while at Oregon. He guided the Ducks to the Final Four in 2017.

Dante has averaged 16.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 1.7 steals in 20 games this season. Couisnard — the only player to start all 34 games for Oregon amid an injury-ravaged season — provides 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals per contest.

Couisnard spent four years (including a redshirt season) at South Carolina before transferring to Oregon in 2022. He said he still talks to former Gamecocks teammates Jacobi Wright and Josh Gray to this day.

He’s going to leave any pleasantries aside till after the game.

“I didn’t check my phone but I know they’re probably texting me, but I ain’t gonna text them back,” Couisnard said with a smile. “Because they know how I get, but it’s alright.”

The winner faces either No. 3 Creighton or No. 14 Akron on Saturday.

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