Gaiensville, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The 10th-ranked Florida Gators will open up SEC action on Wednesday night when they play host to the South Carolina Gamecocks at the O'Connell Center.
The 2013-14 season did not start off very well for South Carolina, as it opened up with losses in five of its first seven games. The Gamecocks have since turned things around however, winning four straight and five of six, most recently downing South Carolina State on their home floor on Friday, 82-75.
Despite dropping a pair of hard-fought contests to Wisconsin (59-53) and Connecticut (65-64), Florida has nonetheless established itself as one of the nation's best teams this season, going 11-2 in non-conference action with signature wins versus Kansas (67-61) and at Memphis (77-75). The Gators' 67-58 triumph over Richmond on Saturday was their fifth straight and allowed them to move to 8-0 at the O'Connell Center.
The Gators hold a 40-22 lead over South Carolina in the all-time series, which includes wins in four straight matchups.
The Gamecocks were far from dominant against their inferior intrastate foe, as they were tied with SC State with under seven minutes to play in their most recent bout, but they pulled away for the victory down the stretch thanks to a 19-8 run. They shot 50 percent from the field (including 7-of-15 from 3-point range) and also helped themselves plenty at the foul line (25-of-35). Brenton Williams made all but one of his seven field-goal attempts for 19 points, Tyrone Johnson scored 17 points off the bench, Duane Notice tallied 13 points and eight assists and Demetrius Henry logged a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
On the season, South Carolina is able to score slightly more points (71.4 ppg) than it allows (68.2) by outshooting its opponents from the field, 43.4 percent to 41.2 percent, and owning positive rebounding (+4.0) and turnover (+0.4) margins. Although no one scores more than Johnson's 11.7 ppg, seven players net at least six points per contest. Williams (11.2 ppg) and Sindarius Thornwell (10.8 ppg) round out the squad's double-digit scorers, with Williams having yet to miss a free throw on 30 attempts.
The Gators appeared in trouble last weekend, as they faced a three-point deficit on their home floor with under seven minutes to play, but they stepped up late by piecing together a 16-2 run to put a stamp on the victory. They shot 46.4 percent from the floor, but the real story was the play of their defense, as they held their opponent to less than 60 points for the eighth time this season. Pacing five teammates in double figures was Michael Frazier, who made three 3-pointers on his way to 18 points. Patric Young poured in 15 points, Casey Prather put up 12 points, Scottie Wilbekin scored 10 and Dorian Finney-Smith hauled in 13 rebounds.
Florida has established a similar pattern on the season, as it scores 71.7 ppg on 46 percent field goal shooting while ranking eighth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing a meager 58.8 ppg. Its impressive output in the turnover battle (+2.8) gives it a leg up in most contests, although it is sometimes hindered in close games with a poor .657 free-throw percentage. Prather (17.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg) has proven to be one of the SEC's most efficient forwards, as he makes 61 percent of his field goal tries. Frazier (11.9 ppg) is a marksman from beyond the arc (33-of-67), while Wilbekin (11.8 ppg), Young (10.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Finney-Smith (10.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg) give the Gators great depth.