Florida ignoring the past

The Gators open Southeastern Conference play on Wednesday night while trying to forget what happened last season, especially against the Gamecocks. The last time South Carolina came to the O'Connell Center, Florida held the Gamecocks to 10 points in the first half and ran away with a 75-36 win, the largest win for the Gators in conference play last season.

The challenge this week has been for the players to forget that. The 10 points in the first half last season for South Carolina was the fewest points Florida allowed in any half last season. The defense was locked in against a Gamecocks offense that didn't have the pieces to compete.

This year is different.

The pieces are different. The starting lineup South Carolina begins the game with on Wednesday will have five different players than the ones who started in Gainesville last season. Only two players that started last are even on the team anymore. The inexperienced is noticeable, as the Gamecocks will start three freshmen and one sophomore on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

"Their personnel is totally different," Billy Donovan said. "The guys who absorbed the majority of minutes last year for them are not there really anymore. They have a lot of new faces, a lot of new personnel. I think they have some very good young players. There are going to be some growing pains and some ups and downs. That's going to be a part of their development and growth.

"I think the team that people remember from South Carolina last year is totally different than this year's team and the number one difference is not style of play but it's their personnel."

Senior guard Brenton Williams -- the only senior on the South Carolina roster -- leads the Gamecocks in scoring with 11.2 points per game. Freshman Sindarius Thornwell is second on the team with 10.8 points per game after coming to school while ranked the No. 4 shooting guard in the country last season.

Two starters from last year's team -- sophomore forwards Michael Carrera and Laimonas Chatkevicius -- are both coming off the bench this year.

The Gamecocks come to Gainesville with a 7-6 record. The numbers aren't pretty. South Carolina is 11th in scoring offense (71.4) and 11th in scoring defense (68.2) but 13th in scoring margin at +3.2.

Even though it doesn't look like a close matchup on paper, Donovan knows what to expect from a team coached by Frank Martin, one of his closer friends in the coaching profession. His teams always play with intensity and defend.

"Frank has a good system and they're going to play a certain way," Donovan said. "They're going to play to an identity that he wants his team to play to. They're going to rebound the ball very well. They're going to defend very well."

Wednesday also has an extra meaning for the Gators. Their focus remains on the conference play and getting off to a good start, but a win over South Carolina would also tie the school record with 24th consecutive home wins. Florida hasn't lost a home game all season and didn't lose one last season. The last home loss came against Kentucky on March 4, 2012.

"Any time you're playing at home, there's always a level of excitement and familiarity," Donovan said. "Guys know the environment. When you go on the road, it's a little bit different. We've played pretty well at home, but when you're competing at home, you can't have a level of complacency because you're at home."

Donovan and the players addressed the streak but refuse to make it a goal. The challenge South Carolina provides is enough to prepare them to play.

"Right now we have bigger goals," sophomore guard Michael Frazier said. "I think maybe down the road that will be a nice thing to say we made happen."


Fightin Gators Top Stories