Gamecocks to face Gators in "must win" game

Looking to build on their win over Alabama, the Gamecocks visit the Florida Gators Wednesday night in a "must win" game. Florida won the first matchup between these two teams on January 23rd, 73-71.


Florida (19-7, 6-5 SEC) enters the game having lost four of its last five games, including a 22 point loss at Tennessee and a surprising home loss to SEC West cellar-dweller LSU. However, Dave Odom does not think there is anything fundamentally different about the current Gators squad than the one Carolina faced a month ago.

"I think it is more a product of who they've played than they are not playing well," he said. "You can suppose whatever you want, as far as they have six freshmen and they've hit the wall, but the truth of the matter is, they are playing at home and there is no doubt in my mind they will have that place electric tomorrow night. The atmosphere will be terrific. It's a must win for them, and I think it is a must win for us."

The previous game against Florida was the first game Carolina (12-12. 4-6 SEC) played after Odom announced his retirement. In that game, Carolina used outside shooting to lead by as much as 11 in the second half. The offense faltered down the stretch, though, and the Gators escaped with the win. Odom likes the way his team has practiced the past few days, but he is not willing to say the Gamecocks are better now than they were the first time around.

"We were confident the last time we played them," he said. "I feel like we had a great chance to beat them. The biggest difference is we are playing away rather than at home. I think [Monday's] practice was maybe as good as we've had in memory. It was so good that I cut off 15 minutes of it."

In the first game, freshman Mike Holmes played just five minutes, and his only entry onto the stat sheet was a turnover. Holmes has gradually worked his way back into the rotation, culminating a 10 point, 8 rebound performance in 20 minutes against Alabama. With Marreese Speights (22 points, 13 rebounds in the first matchup) anchoring the post for Florida, Holmes and fellow freshman Sam Muldrow may be expected to contribute even more. Muldrow played just one minute against Alabama, but has responded in practice.

"The bench is a great attention getter," Odom said of Muldrow. "While Dominique [Archie] does well against low post players, you'd still like to have a young, fresh strong body to go against Speights. Mike is certainly the guy to do it. Sam was effective [in the last game against Florida]. His arms were up and it bothered Speights. The only downside with those two is if the game gets in the open floor and there is pressure, they are not the kind of ballhandlers you need in the game to break the press."

The game will feature the top two assist men in the SEC, although that is about where the similarity ends. Florida's Nick Calathes is a 6'6" freshman who leads the SEC with 6.1 assists. Carolina's Devan Downey is a 5'9" redshirt sophomore who is second in the SEC with 5.2 assists. Calathes is averaging a very respectable 15.2 points per game, but Downey is leading the SEC with 19.8 points per game and second in the nation with 3.4 steals per game. Those numbers have Downey being mentioned not only as an All-SEC candidate, but possible league MVP. That talk is not lost on Odom or Downey. In fact, after the Georgia game, when Downey had had a few relatively poor outings, Odom told Downey he had probably slipped from All-SEC status, especially on defense. Downey responded with 29 points, 7 steals, and a game-winning four-point play against Alabama.

"Offensively, I don't know how anybody could ask for more than what he has done," said Odom. "I am completely shocked that he has scored the way he has scored. We haven't turned this team over to him the way we turned Tre [Kelley]'s team over to him [last year], and yet he's carved out this scoring role that has totally come out of nowhere. Two weeks ago he would have been first team All-SEC with no question. Going into our Alabama game, I didn't think he was because defensively he'd fallen off. He came back with a really strong defensive effort. If he continues that, I think it will elevate him right back into first team All-SEC and in contention for MVP honors."


Notes:

- Florida has won 13 if the last 15 games against the Gamecocks.

- In wins, the Gators average 83.8 points per game on 51.8% shooting and 41.0% behind the arc. In losses, those averages plummet to 65.9 points, 41.5% shooting, and 22.2% from three.

- The game will be televised regionally on Raycom sports. Tipoff is at 8:00.


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