No. 19 Gators try again for first road win


Florida guard Erving Walker drives past Georgia guard Vincent Williams on Tuesday at the O-Dome.

Matt Stamey/ Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 13, 2012 at 9:55 p.m.

It's been hard for Florida players to explain. And even tougher to accept.

Facts

Who: No. 19 Florida Gators (13-4, 1-1 SEC) at South Carolina Gamecocks (8-8, 0-2 SEC)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, S.C.
Gainesville TV: CSS (Ch. 199, Gainesville)
Gainesville radio: 103.7 FM

The No. 19 Gators (13-4, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) will try again for their first road win of the season tonight at South Carolina.

“I've forgotten what it feels like to win on the road, going into someone else's place and being able to beat them in their own house,” Florida sophomore center Patric Young said. “I want that feeling again.”

The common thread in UF's 0-4 start on the road this season has been sharing and taking care of the basketball. Florida has a combined 50 to 69 assist-to-turnover ratio in the four losses. This, from a Gator team that overall leads the SEC assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.5-1.

Defense has been another issue on the road of late. The Gators allowed Rutgers to shoot 48.6 percent from the floor in their double-overtime loss there, then gave up a season-high 51 percent from the field in a loss at Tennessee.

“If you look at our stat sheet on the road, teams have shot a very high percentage against us,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “We've turned the basketball over, we have not shot a high percentage, and then it becomes very difficult to win on the road when you are giving up 48, 49 percent from the field.”

Donovan said he doesn't intend to change the routine to prepare for tonight's game. Florida looked lethargic in its first SEC road game at Tennessee, perhaps the byproduct of an 11 a.m. tip time.

“We just had a letdown against Rutgers and Tennessee, and that's something we have to fix,” Florida senior point guard Erving Walker said.

The Gators responded with better energy and better defense in a 70-48 win over Georgia on Tuesday night at the O'Connell Center. The 48 points were the fewest the Gators have allowed this season.

Florida went 8-2 on the road last season, a season that ended with an Elite Eight appearance. Though eight players returned from last season's team, only two (guards Kenny Boynton and Walker) were starters. Young and junior forward Erik Murphy are first-year starters with increased roles. Freshman guard Bradley Beal is going through his first season of college basketball.

“The roles are different,” Young said. “I had Vernon (Macklin) and Alex (Tyus) in front of me, and they have been in the league for awhile. They know how difficult it was to play a road game with significant minutes. I really didn't experience that until this year, and I didn't realize how hard it is playing somewhere else and how much more focused and together your team needs to be on the road.”

Young has managed to stay out of foul trouble on the road so far this season, but is still learning the fine line between staying aggressive and avoiding calls.

“You have to really play smarter and your team really needs to be together because there's going to be a lot of times when there's a lot of adversity, bad calls, no calls, or things like that,” Young said. “You have to push through it, and your team has to stay together.”

Another road loss tonight at South Carolina would likely knock the Gators out of the Top 25 for the first time this season. The Gamecocks (8-8, 0-2 SEC) have yet to win in the conference and are coming off a 67-57 loss at home Tuesday night against Vanderbilt.

“Last year we became one of the better road teams in the country, and this is another challenge for us,” Donovan said. “I think we have a group of guys that understand what is in front of them and hopefully have learned from some of these experiences.”

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Jr. 18.9 ppg, 3.1 apg

G Erving Walker 5-8 Sr. 13.1 ppg, 4.9 apg

G Bradley Beal 6-3 Fr. 14.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg

F Erik Murphy 6-10 Jr. 10.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg

C Patric Young 6-9 So. 11.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg

SOUTH CAROLINA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Lakeem Jackson 6-5 Jr. 4.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg

G Eric Smith 5-11 So. 6.1 ppg, 1.7 apg

F Malik Cooke 6-6 Sr. 12.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg

F Anthony Gill 6-8 Fr. 8.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg

F Damontre Harris 6-9 So. 6.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg

Notes: Florida is 39-22 all-time against South Carolina, including a 22-11 record under current head coach Billy Donovan. … South Carolina coach Darrin Horn is 3-3 against Florida. …Florida leads the SEC with 16.8 assists per game. … The Gators are coming off a strong defensive performance against Georgia, giving up a season-low 48 points. … Boynton has made a 3-pointer in 33 straight games, tying Brett Nelson for the second-longest streak in school history. … With 1,552 career points, Walker ranks 10th all-time on the UF scoring list. Walker needs 13 points to pass Eugene McDowell (1,565 points) for ninth place. … South Carolina sophomore guard Bruce Ellington, back from the football team, is averaging 10.2 ppg off the bench. … The Gamecocks are 7-4 at home this season, while Florida is 0-4 on the road.

Three things to watch

1. Stopping Ellington

South Carolina sophomore point guard Bruce Ellington is back from the football team and starting to get his legs back as well. Ellington is coming off a 20-point performance against Vanderbilt on Tuesday night and had 23 points in South Carolina's 72-69 upset of the Gators at the O'Connell Center last season. Look for the Gators to slide over junior guard Kenny Boynton to help point guard Erving Walker defend the more physical Ellington on the perimeter. “He's a good enough player where he's going to score some points,” Walker said. “You just don't want him to explode.”

2. Attacking the basket

Even though center Sam Muldrow left last season, South Carolina remains one of the top shot-blocking teams in the SEC. The Gamecocks are fifth in the SEC in blocked shots at 5.2 per game. It will be important for Florida to establish sophomore center Patric Young early in the post and for Young to try to get South Carolina's big men in foul trouble with pump fakes. “You can't be afraid.,” Young said. “You have to attack them to their body so they can't really jump.”

3. Florida's shooting

While Florida is still leading the nation with 10.8 3-pointers per game, the Gators haven't exactly lit it up from the perimeter so far in SEC play. Florida is shooting just 32.6 percent (14-43) from 3-point range. Some have come on open looks and others have been rushed shots. “You are going to go through dry spells at times,” said Florida senior point guard Erving Walker, who is shooting 40.2 pecent from 3-point range this season. “As long as we are taking good ones, we feel like we have good enough shooters we'll be fine in that aspect.”

Three questions

1. Can Florida come out with better energy on the road after a lethargic performance at Tennessee?

2. Can the Gators keep South Carolina sophomore point guard Bruce Ellington in check?

3. Can Florida knock down more shots from the perimeter after averaging 7 3-pointers a game in its first two SEC games?

Go to Gatorsports.com after the game for Kevin Brockway's answers.

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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