UF can't solve South Carolina

Published: Thursday, February 9, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 9, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
How Florida's basketball team got to 20-2 and No. 7 in the country was a mystery to a lot of people.
How they let it go on Wednesday night was even more baffling.
Florida's inexplicable performance against South Carolina was another indication that this team is only as good as its focus. I'm not saying they didn't play hard, but they didn't play with purpose.
That's why they allowed the Gamecocks to make 10 three-pointers, didn't get back in transition, got outrebounded and couldn't take advantage of the free throw disparity. South Carolina, which has its own chicken curse against Florida this school year, kept hanging around before finally taking over the game.
The Gamecocks may have been the most improbable team to end Florida's home winning streak considering that they have one victory against any other SEC team this season.
"We didn't come out with the same intensity (as Saturday)," said Joakim Noah. "We needed to come out and play with intensity."
But wasn't that the lesson that was supposed to have been learned in Columbia two weeks ago?
"What do you want me to say?" Noah said. "It wasn't."
Which made this game especially difficult to comprehend. They experienced the pain of playing poorly at South Carolina, saw the players celebrate their conquest and vowed to get them back.
Instead, they took a major step back in the SEC East and overall SEC races.
Baffling. "I thought our basketball team, it was a great lesson for them," Billy Donovan said. "The great equalizer in college basketball is the three-point shot."
So defend it. But they couldn't. As a result, it came down to the last two minutes when anything could happen.
And it did. It looked as if Florida would tie it when Noah got the ball under the basket. But Tre Kelley slapped it out of his hands.
Still, a three-pointer by Lee Humphrey gave them a chance with 20 seconds to play. The crowd was rocking but the press was broken and Al Horford intentionally fouled Renaldo Balkman. They still weren't out of it until Taurean Green's three fell woefully short and that was your ball game.
Florida had the size advantage and got outrebounded. Florida had the size advantage and didn't get the ball inside enough.
Baffling. Three losses in the league, two to South Carolina.
"We didn't want to lose to them the first time," Green said.
They did which meant, of course, they would get revenge in Gainesville. But the same passes that found their mark against slow-handed Kentucky were slapped away by the quick South Carolina defenders. After driving the Wildcats crazy, Green couldn't penetrate four days later.
In theory, South Carolina was the perfect team for Florida to play after such an emotional win on national TV. Certainly, there would be no lack of focus or intensity at home against one of the two teams that beat the Gators.
But in reality, it's clear that South Carolina is the team Florida wants to avoid in Nashville.
The Gamecocks know how to beat Florida. Why can't they beat anyone else?
"We knew if we didn't get going, they'll run it up," said Kelley.
At times, the Gators looked like they would. They led by eight in the first half, then allowed South Carolina to take the lead on the strength of three three-pointers. It looked like they were ready to make one of their patented second-half runs when Brewer scored on a marvelous three-point play, but an easy lay-up and another three tied it again.
Up four, another three, then another to give the Gamecocks the lead.
"Some nights you play good and some nights you play bad," said USC's Tarence Kinsey.
Some nights you run Kentucky out of the gym and some nights you lose to South Carolina.
Twice. Baffling. You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com.
or by calling 374-5053. Dooley's columns appear Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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