Florida prepared for Gamecocks

The Southeastern Conference schedule opened on January 8 with the Gators and South Carolina playing in Gainesville, but Florida coach Billy Donovan expects to see a different Gamecocks team on Tuesday. Second-year coach Frank Martin has his team playing with energy, easily noticeable as South Carolina upset Kentucky on Saturday in Columbia. The Gators are hoping to avoid the same outcome.

"They are a team that has evolved and gotten better," Billy Donovan said. "From the beginning of January, the first game and now we're playing the second time, they have improved."

That was the goal for Frank Martin. After taking over a team last season that didn't have the talent or mindset he wanted, Martin now has his players on the roster and the progress is showing. The 11-18 record and 4-12 conference record doesn't show it, but Martin is getting closer to the roster he wants and the mentality he wants his team to play with.

Donovan has seen it for as long as his Florida teams have played against Martin, whether at Kansas State or South Carolina.

"I think Frank's teams always play to an identity that I think he wants them to play to they're going to be aggressive on defense, they're going to be extremely physical at the basket, they're going to chase balls at the backboard," Donovan said. "They're going to do a lot of those things and they're going to do them as well as anybody."

The strength of Martin's team is in the backcourt. Starting guards Sindarius Thornwell and Brenton Williams average 28.5 points, providing instant offense for the Gamecocks.

Williams is 11th in the league with 15 points per game. The senior guard gives the Gamecocks offense in different ways.

"(Brenton) Williams is as good a scorer as there is in our league," Donovan said. "He is an upperclassman, he's an older guy. He plays with a really good motor. He's shooting the ball extremely well; he's right around 44 percent from the three-point line. He can do it a lot of different ways. Frank puts him in situations in the half court where he's using a lot of different screens and a lot of different ways. You've got to obviously really do a good job."

Thornwell, a 6-5 freshman guard, is the prototype that Martin wants. He likes to have big, physical guards on his roster, and the former-four star recruit is just that. Thornwell is 18th in the league with 13.5 points per game, adding four rebounds.

"Thornwell is another guy. He's a big, strong, physical guard as a freshman," Donovan said. "He's at his position when he plays the two or the three. He's physically bigger than most guys, the same thing could be said for Notice at the point guard spot although they're young they're big strong physical guards. Their backcourt players are strong physical and athletic. I would say Williams is one of those guys that's an extremely explosive scorer that clearly on several occasions this year has had over 25 in a game and he's getting about 18 right now in the league play."

With only two games left in regular season action, the Gators have the conference title locked up but now eye a perfect 18-0 record. The players admitted to talking about it and making it one of their goals the rest of the way.

That likely takes out the chances they overlook South Carolina, but any possibility of that happening was erased with the Gamecocks beating Kentucky in Columbia on Saturday.

"We knew they were a good team from the first time we played them," Casey Prather said. "We don't go into games taking teams lightly. We already were kind of aware of it whether they beat Kentucky or not."

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