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January 9, 2014

Williams: consistency at last

The story of Brent Williams' career at South Carolina has been a search for consistency.

That search may be over.

For the sixth game in a row, Williams has tallied in double figures, averaging 16.2 points per game in that time with a high of 24 versus Akron in Columbia.

For the fifth game in a row, he's started and helped the Gamecocks (7-7) go 4-1 over that stretch, the only setback coming last night in Gainesville against No. 10 Florida.

For the sixth game in a row, Williams has made Martin rethink his role and what he could mean to the team.

For the sixth game in a row, Williams has been, in a word, consistent.

"It's the most consistent stretch of basketball that he's played in my time here," Martin said of Williams. "From my practices to scouting reports, his defense is vastly improved. He could have been doing this defensively a while ago, but it takes time.

"Everyone learns differently. Everyone learns things at a different rate."

For Williams, the learning process has been slower than hoped-for as he's flashed tantalizing moments of brilliance, none brighter than last season's 38-point game against Mississippi State.

But those moments have been sandwiched around long stretches of offensive inconsistency - in three of this season's first six games he failed to score a point - and a defensive effort that kept the team's lone remaining senior out of the starting lineup until after Christmas.

At times, it must have seemed easier to walk to the moon than get out of Martin's doghouse.

"I think Brent's just grown as a player, he's grown as a young man," Martin said. "He and I, both of us, our basketball relationship has had some bumpy roads. That doesn't mean it's negative, it just means I'm trying to get him to do things a certain way, and he's trying to do it another way."

That "other way" led to a two-week, two-game stretch from Dec. 6 to Dec. 17 in which Williams played just two minutes at Oklahoma State and six minutes against Manhattan at home. After coming to life at the Diamond Head Classic with an eight-point game in the win over Saint Mary's and 14 points in the loss to Boise State that featured improved defensive play, Williams got the start against Akron and has yet to leave the starting lineup.

"The reason I 'be stuck with him is because I believe in him as a human being," Martin said. "Now he's embracing the style of play he's embracing the commitment it takes to be good, I think he's embracing the fact that he has 18, what, 19 games now, 18 plus one game in the conference tournament, that's guaranteed in his college career.

"That sense of urgency kind of makes you do things with a finer detail than real loose. I think all those things have come together for him, I think our team is understanding how to play better through our concepts, which is a lowing him to be more aggressive, I think our inside scoring is better, meaning he's getting more opportunities on the perimeter because of our ability to score in the paint whether it be through our bigs or our through dribble-drives. There' a lot of things that go into that, and I think the biggest thing is that Brent stayed the course."

One area of extreme consistency for Williams has been his success at the free throw line. Dating back to last season, Williams has now made 47 consecutive free throws (he's 30-for-30 this season), breaking John Roche's previous school record of 41. Watching from the sideline, Martin says the streak is a marvel.

"I've never had somebody in high school or college make so many straight consecutive free throws," Martin said. "I'm sure there's a reason for that. I'd figure out a way to mess them up.

"I've stayed out of Brent's hair, and that's probably why he's making them. This is a first for me. I'm enjoying every free-throw make just like the next person. Anytime you can put your name next to John Roche in any category, you're doing something right."

The other thing Williams has done right this season has been respond with maturity to the adversity he's handled.

"A lot of kids, things don't go their way, or coaches try to teach them, they'll sulk, they'll pout, they'll kind of take the ball and go home," Martin said. "Brent hasn't done that, and he's starting to realize just what kind of an impact he can make. I'm excited for him.

Obviously I'd like for him to continue playing at the rate he's going. He's been real efficient, and as a coach, you want your players to be efficient, you want them to maximize what they do within their role, and he's doing that right now."

That effort continued last night in Gainsville, when he was a big part of the reason the Gamecocks fought back from an early 18-point deficit to cut the lead to eight with 13:55 to play

"I'm real proud of Brent," Martin said after the game. "He started off, he was freaked out and I got after him on the bench. I really got after him. Last year, if I ever did that, he'd fold his tent and go home. Today, he kind of buckled in and said, 'You know what? Let me go play.' And he did. I'm real proud of him for that."

For Williams, the recent success is all the more welcome because of how he's achieved it.

"I feel like I turned a corner pretty well," Williams said. "It's mainly because my teammates are doing a great job finding me on the floor. I'm paying attention to what the coaches are having me do as far as detail and changing up offensive sets and things.

"I'm trying to stay the course and stay consistent to help our team win."

If he can, that long search for consistency may finally be at an end.



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