UF hoops living on the edge
Published: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 at 10:29 p.m.
Florida has lived on the edge for much of the 2010-11 season.
Who: No. 17 Florida Gators (18-5, 7-2 SEC) at South Carolina Gamecocks (13-6, 4-4 SEC)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Colonial Center, Columbia, S.C..
Gainesville TV: WLUF, Ch. 6, Gainesville, WJXT, Ch. 19, Gainesville
Gainesville radio: 103.7 FM, AM-850
Yet whether it's been an Alex Tyus block at the end of regulation at Tennessee, a miracle 30-footer from Erving Walker to send a game at Georgia to double-overtime or clutch putbacks from senior forward Chandler Parsons against Kentucky, the Gators are finding ways to win close games they lost in previous seasons.
No. 17 Florida (18-5, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) will look to avenge one of its few close losses in SEC play tonight at South Carolina. Though the Gators failed to make big shots and big stops down the stretch in a 72-69 loss to the Gamecocks, they have been better in clutch situations of late.
Florida is 5-3 in games decided by five points or less and 3-1 in overtime. In SEC play, Florida is 3-1 in games decided by five points or less and 3-0 in OT.
With all five starters back, Florida is the most experienced team in the SEC. Parsons said he thinks experience has made a difference in UF's ability to pull off tight games.
“It's tough to say a couple of years ago that we'd win some the games we've won,” Parsons said. “Having four overtime games, winning three, really shows something about our team, how we keep playing. I think it's all about effort, executing our offense, playing defense and getting those big stops when we need them. And then, obviously, guys coming up with big shots.”
But Florida coach Billy Donovan doesn't view experience as a factor in winning tight games.
“Last year's Kentucky team, with all the young guys, did pull out the close games,” Donovan said. “There was a thought when I had (Joakim) Noah, (Al) Horford, (Corey) Brewer and they were all sophomores, that there was no NCAA Tournament experience, and we needed to go in with a very experienced team to go deep into the tournament, and they proved that wrong.”
Case in point, Florida followed its overtime win at Tennessee with a three-point loss at the O'Connell Center against South Carolina. In that game, Walker failed to make the front-end of a one-and-one with the Gators down 64-63 with 1:07 left. Then, South Carolina center Sam Muldrow made a clutch 3-pointer with 51.7 seconds remaining to put the Gamecocks up to stay 67-63.
“I think just because of the fact that we've won close games doesn't ensure that we are going to win close games going forward,” Donovan said. “I've always believed this. Anything in the past doesn't have any bearing on the next time you are in that situation, other than the fact there is a level of familiarity. But you still have to make the plays.”
More often than not, the Gators have made the plays, which is why they stand alone in first place in the SEC East. But the Gators are a few shots and a few plays away from being 2-7 in the SEC. If Brandon Knight's 3-pointer at the buzzer would have been a little longer, the Gators would have suffered a heartbreaking loss to Kentucky. If Kenny Boynton and Walker failed to make clutch back-to-back 3-pointers in the final two minutes, Florida would have suffered a stunning loss at Auburn.
Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Georgia were all overtime games that could have gone either way at the end of regulation.
Perhaps past failures in clutch situations have come to mind. As a freshman, Walker had potential tying 3-point attempts against Tennessee and against Auburn blocked. The Auburn loss in the 2009 SEC Tournament prevented the Gators from a possible return to the NCAA Tournament.
“I don't think you can win and win big until your heart really gets broken,” Donovan said. “And then, what happens is, you find out how important winning is to you.”
On the flip side, Florida could be 9-0 in the SEC if it shot the ball from the free-throw line as well as it did Saturday night in going 18-of-22 against Kentucky. Florida missed 10 free throws in its 72-69 loss to South Carolina and 10 more free throws in its 71-64 loss at Mississippi State.
“I do think the character of a team is sometimes found through adversity,” Donovan said. “And even when Kentucky, the other night, (with us) up 13, (Kentucky) made an incredible run at us. And we went through a period against their zone where we didn't get good shots and we didn't do a good job on defense. Our guys stayed resilient. They kept fighting. They kept battling and they kept trying to persevere.
“I didn't feel as a coach that we kind of just folded. And I think at times, some of these older guys, they would fold. And they've gotten better in that area.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 So. 13.0 ppg, 2.4 apg
G Erving Walker 5-8 Jr. 14.2 ppg, 3.4 apg
F Chandler Parsons 6-9 Sr. 11.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg
F Alex Tyus 6-8 Sr. 8.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg
C Vernon Macklin 6-10 Sr. 11.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg
F Patric Young 6-8 Fr. 3.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Fr. 2.5 ppg, 1.9 apg
F Erik Murphy 6-10 So. 5.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg
SOUTH CAROLINA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Ramon Galloway 6-2 So. 10.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg
G Bruce Ellington 5-9 Fr. 14.4 ppg, 3.4 apg
F Lakeem Jackson 6-5 So. 8.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg
F Damontre Harris 6-9 Fr. 3.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg
C Sam Muldrow 6-9 Sr. 10.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg
G Brian Richardson 6-4 Fr. 7.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg
F Malik Cooke 6-6 Jr. 8.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg
G Stephen Spinella 6-4 So. 2.5 ppg, 1.4 rpg
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Block party
South Carolina ranks first the SEC in blocked shots at 6.8 per game. The Gators had eight shots blocked in a 72-69 loss to South Carolina, a big reason why the Gators trailed 35-25 at halftime. Senior center Sam Muldrow is tied for the SEC lead in blocks with 3.5 per game. Florida coach Billy Donovan said he wants his big guys to remain aggressive taking the ball to the basket against South Carolina, but doesn't want his perimeter players to loft any ill-advised floaters in the lane. Better shot selection in the paint will be important for the Gators on Wednesday night.
2. Stopping Ellington
South Carolina freshman point guard Bruce Ellington burned the Gators, scoring 23 points in the first meeting. Ellington is capable on scoring on drives to the basket and from 3-point range. Look for Florida guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker to alternate covering Ellington. Walker came up with two big steals against Kentucky freshman point guard Brandon Knight during Saturday night's 70-68 win over the Wildcats.
3. Florida's bench
The Gators got a surprise contribution from freshman point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who scored nine points off the bench in the first half against Kentucky. Florida's bench has consistently outscored its opponents' bench in Southeastern Conference play. Freshman forward Patric Young scored a career-high 12 points against the Gamecocks in the first meeting between the two schools.
1. Will the Gators do a better job scoring inside and avoiding shot blocks?
2. How well can Florida keep talented South Carolina freshman point guard Bruce Ellington in check?
3. Can Florida continue to get quality production from its bench?
Go to Gatorsports.com after the game to read Kevin Brockway's answers.
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