Gamecocks to square off with defending champs

The Gamecocks (9-8, 1-2 in SEC) play host to the Florida Gators Wednesday night, their first game since Dave Odom announced his upcoming retirement at the end of the season. The Gators come in as the back to back defending champions, but unranked and with five new starters. Read inside for a full preview of Wednesday's match up.

Florida enters the game 16-3 and 3-1 in the SEC, yet somehow they remain unranked. Even though they appear headed back to the NCAA Tournament, Odom suggested that Florida coach Billy Donovan is probably glad his team is still outside the Top 25.

"I would bet you Billy would say he's perfectly fine with not being ranked," Odom said. "Particularly for a young team, you can keep them hungry that way, [saying] ‘You guys are not even ranked.' I'm sure that has come up."

The Gators are one of the youngest teams in the SEC, with no seniors and just one junior in their rotation. They start two freshmen, including leading scorer Nick Calathes, who is averaging 19.3 points per game in conference play. With all the youth, Odom called the Gators "the fastest improving team" in the conference, with another stable of long, athletic players.

"I think Billy has done a masterful job of captaining the ship and keeping that thing on course," said Odom. "He has corralled together a really strong group of highly skilled players. They are skilled at five positions. The Florida team this year, though young, is very much in the same mold as every team I have played at Florida since I have been here. They can all pass, shoot, handle, and defend, and play."

However, as Odom answered questions from the media on Tuesday, it became obvious that nobody was thinking too much about Florida. Odom spent most of his pre-game press conference talking about his retirement. He admitted there have been some moments where he wondered if he made the right decision, but insisted he will not be changing his mind.

"There are moments when I am by myself when I say ‘Wow, what have I done?'" said Odom. "I would be disappointed in myself if I didn't feel that, because coaching has meant that much to me. It has not been that hard to avoid [thinking about it] because I am so focused on this team."

As he did Friday when he announced his retirement, Odom asked the fans to come to the Colonial Center and support the team. It remains to be seen whether the fan support will be there for the remainder of the season, and whether the team will respond as he hopes.

"I will be disappointed if they don't come out with a renewed spirit and enthusiasm for our team," Odom said. "I have a world of faith in them, and I think they will do that. I will know maybe before anybody else [if they do] because I go out early. Nobody will be able to fool me on that one."

Evka Baniulus, who will make his second consecutive start as Carolina will once again go with the small lineup that beat Arkansas, echoed Odom's uncertainty.

"We're trying to stay in the mood to play the games," he said. "We started working harder now, trying to make Coach Odom's last year more impressive. As a team, we are a family, and we've got to look out for each other. Hopefully [the fans] are going to support us the best they can.

Game notes:

- The Gators have won 12 of the last 14 games against the Gamecocks, but the two losses came in the form of a season sweep in 2006, Florida's first championship season.

- Despite the gaudy record, Florida is just 1-2 in road games, winning at Alabama and losing at Ohio State and Ole Miss.

- The Gamecock Greats scheduled to be honored at the game are Joe Rhett, Henry Martin, Sr., Kevin Joyce, and Art Whisnant.

- Tipoff is scheduled for 8:00, with the game televised on Raycom.

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