Gators Need This One

With just five games remaining in the regular season the Gator basketball team cannot afford any slip ups. Florida lost its margin for error a week ago when LSU beat the Gators in the O'Dome. As a result, Wednesday's game with South Carolina is pretty much a "must" win for the Orange and Blue.

I believe the Gators have to get to 22 wins to earn their 10th straight NCAA Tournament bid. With homes games against Mississippi State and Tennessee and road trips to Georgia and Kentucky still on the schedule a 3-2 finish is a must. And despite South Carolina's rather pedestrian 12-12 record (4-6 SEC) this one won't come easily.

South Carolina gave the Gators fits up in Columbia four weeks ago, leading most of the way before the Gators pulled out a 73-71 win. The Gators have trouble matching up with the quickness of Carolina guards Zam Fredrick and Devan Downey. Add in the athleticism of forward Dominique Archie and you have three really good players that Florida has to contend with. In the first meeting those three combined for 57 of the Gamecocks' 71 points and Archie led them on the boards with 11.

For Florida, Marreese Speights (22/13) and Nick Calathes (21/4) were the top performers and the only Gators in double figures. Florida barely out rebounded (33-31) the worst rebounding team in the SEC (19.9 rebounds/game vs. SEC). The Gators also did a poor job of defending the three-point line allowing Carolina to make 10-of-20 from beyond the arc. Everyone knows how depending the Gators have been on success from three point range this season. It's no coincidence they have been out shot from the arc in all seven of their losses.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan is looking to lead the Gators to their 20th win of the season to make it ten years in a row reaching that milestone. Donovan talked about the challenge South Carolina poses in getting that win.

"I think they are a team that continues to get better. Earlier in the year when we played them close to the start of the SEC there's no question they were kind of a two-headed monster with Zam Fredrick and Devan Downey. Those guys continue to play very good basketball, but they've really gotten great play from Dominique Archie and (Evaldas) Baniulis. They've also gotten very good play from (Brandis) Raley-Ross and Dwayne Day so they're a team that's very balanced."

Donovan also pointed out that South Carolina has been able to win away from home in a couple of places where the Gators came up short.

"They've had some terrific road victories. They won at Arkansas (70-66), they ended up winning at Ole Miss (80-77) and those are some tough places to play (Arkansas, Ole Miss) so this will be a very difficult and challenging game. They're an undersized team, maybe a little different than some of the teams we've just played who had some size and some strength. They are a very quick basketball with a lot of athleticism. They are a team that can score in bunches and also a team that will give us a lot of different looks at the defensive end of the floor."

The Gators have dominated this series in recent years, winning four in a row and 13 of the last 15 meetings between the schools. Both South Carolina wins were by six points in the 2006 season, for which the Gators got a measure of revenge by taking the SEC Tournament Final 49-47. Unless they meet up in this year's SEC Tournament it will be the final game against Carolina's outgoing Coach Dave Odom.

Questions or comments? Contact's Larry Vettel

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