Gators Look to Keep it Going

The Gator basketball team will take a two-game winning streak and a stretch of winning six of seven on the road Wednesday for a matchup with the South Carolina Gamecocks. Florida is 17-6 overall and seemingly has moved into the field for the NCAA Tournament, pending the results of their remaining eight regular season games.

Carolina is coming off its worst performances of the season, a 79-53 loss to Tennessee and at 13-9 desperately needs a strong finish to warrant any sort of NCAA consideration.

The two teams met in Gainesville on January 23 and Florida escaped with a 58-56 win when Chandler Parsons nailed a 3-point shot at the buzzer. The win ruined a phenomenal performance from Carolina's Devon Downey who scored 36 points including an acrobatic basket with about five seconds to go that had seemingly given the Gamecocks the win. The only other bright spot for Carolina was that Sam Muldrow (6 points/9 rebounds) outplayed Florida Center Vernon Macklin (7/1).

The last five games between the schools have been decided by a total of just 13 points, and Florida coach Billy Donovan wouldn't be surprised by more of the same in this one.

"We've had some challenging games for both us in this series and certainly in the last few years it's all come down to the wire. I'm not quite sure what the future will hold for us on Wednesday, but just looking at past games, I think you can say both teams have played each other very well. We're going on the road and we're coming off an emotional win. South Carolina is coming off a loss against Tennessee and we can fully expect that we'll get their best performance on Wednesday."

Donovan said he's very impressed with Downey who is averaging almost 31 points a game in conference play. However he insists Carolina gives him plenty of other things to worry about.

"Certainly Downey is a huge dilemma. What he's doing provides an unbelievable challenge. Their team has a lot of pieces, and although he gets most of the credit and publicity, I still think they're a great shot-blocking team. I think they have a low-post scorer in Muldrow (9.8/8.1 vs. SEC). (Brandis) Raley-Ross (9.5 vs. SEC) is a guy that's an unsung hero for their team and in a lot of ways, a lot of the things he does get overshadowed by the electricity of Downey. Then they've got (Evaldas) Baniulis who comes off the bench and shoots the ball very, very well. It'll be an unbelievable challenge on Wednesday."

That's all well and good, but beating South Carolina is all about Downey and, more specifically, making him work harder on both ends of the floor. Donovan talked about how even the best laid plans don't always work against Carolina's dynamic SEC Player of the Year candidate.

"I don't think that you can just eliminate his shots. There were things that we tried to do, like trapping him at the end of the game, that were very, very ineffective. He went right around the trap. Sometimes that's bad to do because when he goes around two people, you have two people out of the play, they're playing five against three and that's a hard thing too. Our guys have to pay attention to the shot clock and where he is when it gets late. He has the whole package. He has deep 3-point range, he can stop on a dime and shoot runners (and) he goes to the free-throw line 8-to-10 times a game. He gets 30 against everybody because he's really a problem."

Donovan is in his 14th season coaching the Gators and also spent five years as an assistant at Kentucky. He says in 19 years of watching SEC basketball up close, he hasn't seen many who could do what Downey does.

"The only guy that I would compare him to at that size is Chris Jackson (formerly of LSU). I watched Chris Jackson get 44 in Rupp Arena, and we tried to do everything we could against him. Downey is that type of player to me. He's got the whole package and he's seen double teams, all sorts of defenses. The biggest thing I respect the most and admire about him is when it comes down to the clutch, he really wants it. Not to say he makes every shot in clutch situations, but he's made his fair share. He wants the ball and he's got that competitive fire in him that I really admire."


Downey is averaging 30.9 points a game in SEC play while his teams combine for just 36.3. Despite getting all kinds of attention from opposing defenses he's making 44 percent of his three point shots in league play. One guy who has picked it up lately if brawny forward Lakeem Jackson (5.1/5.5) who is giving Muldrow some help inside.


Carolina's biggest claim to fame this year is a 68-62 win over otherwise undefeated Kentucky. The Gamecocks also beat the Richmond team that beat the Gators in the Orange Bowl Classic.


Donovan is 20-9 against the Gamecocks, which is pretty good considering he lost the first five times he led the Gators against Carolina. Last year's game in Columbia was a devastating loss when the Gators missed a free throw and allowed Carolina to score an uncontested lay up at the buzzer for a 70-69 win. That game, arguably could have kept the Gators out of the NCAA Tournament.


Rebounding will probably be a significant factor Wednesday night. It seemingly always is with this team. The Gators are 6-0 when they win the battle of the boards in the SEC, out-rebounding their opponents by an average of 7.2 a game. However in their three SEC losses the Gators have lost the battle each time by an average of 5.3 caroms.

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