Defending Champs Rout Wounded Gamecocks
On paper, the game appeared to be a mismatch. The Gators are ranked second in the country and are the consensus favorite to repeat as national champions. The Gamecocks have been an up-and-down team, and entered the game with a virtually non-existent bench and injuries to three starters. However, Dave Odom has shown a knack for upsetting Billy Donovan's Gators during his tenure with Carolina, with a 5-7 record against Florida. Never was this more evident than last season, when the Gamecocks swept the home-and-home season series with Florida. The teams met again in the SEC Tournament Championship game, where the Gators narrowly won, 49-47.
At the start of the game, it was obvious Florida had something to prove. The Gators ran circles around the Gamecocks and jumped out to leads of 12-0 and 22-6 before Carolina showed the first sign of life. Key to the run was the Gamecocks' inability to locate Florida's gunner, Lee Humphrey, who went 5-5 behind the arc en route to 15 first half points and a team high 27 for the game. Carolina opened the game in a zone defense to counter Florida's big men, and Humphrey took advantage of the open spaces. He scored 9 of Florida's first 10 points, forcing Odom to call a timeout and explain that it is a good idea to guard people. After the game, Odom incredulously said, "I don't know what the run was in the beginning of the game. I looked up and it was 19-4. I chose not to look at it after that."
Trailing 12-0, Tre Kelley finally broke the seal on the basket for Carolina. Florida kept scoring, stretching the lead to 22-6 when Kelley took over. It appeared on many possessions that Kelley had no confidence in his teammates, only passing the ball to re-establish his dribble or when they were wide open. This led to a number of ill-advised shots from Kelley, but also jump-started a big run. After being outscored 24-8 over the first 8 minutes of the game, Carolina outscored the Gators 25-13 over the next 10 minutes.
"In the first half, Tre Kelley was terrific," Donovan said. "He really kept them close."
As the half wound down, an irate Billy Donovan called a timeout, and the Gators responded by scoring the final four points to lead 41-33 at halftime. The final basket came on an inbounds play under the basket with just two seconds on the clock. Donovan drew up the play in the huddle, and his veteran squad executed perfectly, despite having never run the play before. Al Horford got open at the rim and dunked the inbounds pass in a play that seemed to stunt some of Carolina's momentum.
The second half began the same way as the first. Florida came out strong, and shut down Carolina's offense. It took the Gamecocks five minutes to score the first basket, a Brandon Wallace layup. It was another two minutes before Wallace was able to add another basket for the Gamecocks, during which time the Gators showed why they are one of the nation's elite teams and went on a 12-2 run to stretch the lead to 20, at 55-35. Six different Gators scored during the run, as Florida showed off its depth.
"All of the shots we took were good shots, they just didn't go," said Odom. "If we could have answered their baskets at the beginning of the second half, I think we could have made it a better game."
By that point, the rout was on, and Florida continued to pour it on. South Carolina scored just 17 points in the second half and shot only 20.0% from the floor and 22.2% from the free throw line. Florida shot 64.2% for the game and led by as much as 40 points as they cruised to an easy 84-50 win.
- Chad Gray, who saw his most extensive action of the year, had a chance to score his first points as a Gamecock in the second half, but he missed the front end of a one and one. On the season, Gray has one rebound, one assist, one turnover and four fouls in 10 minutes of play over three games.
- After shooting 8-13 for 20 points and 2 assists in the first half, Kelley went 1-9 with no assists in the second. Donovan credited the drop-off in production to Florida's ability to rotate in fresh defenders and make Kelley work.
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