Road-weary Gators seek comforts of home


Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 5:39 p.m.

Junior center Patric Young views one benefit of Florida's upcoming home games.

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Florida center Patric Young dunks against South Carolina during last year's game at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville. A foul had been called before the dunk so it did not count.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer

Facts

Wednesday's game

Who: No. 4 Florida Gators (16-2, 6-0 SEC) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (12-7, 2-4 SEC)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center, Gainesville
Gainesville-area TV: CW (Ch. 10, Cox Cable, Gainesville), WJXT (Ch. 19, Cox Cable, Gainesville)
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM

Comfort.

“All this traveling we've been doing, it's tough being on a plane and being 6-(foot-)9,” Young said.

The No. 4 Gators (16-2, 6-0 SEC) will begin a stretch of four home games in their next five games tonight at the O'Connell Center against South Carolina (12-7, 2-4 SEC). Florida handled a stretch of four road games in its previous five games without many problems. The Gators won road games at LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia and Mississippi State by an average margin of 23.8 points.

Overall, the Gators have played nine of their previous 12 games away from the O'Connell Center.

“It's been a long stretch, but just because we're home doesn't mean that we can relax right now,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “But we have done a lot of traveling, and I think for every team, everybody loves being at home. I don't think it's any different for anybody. We still have the same level of preparation we have to go through regardless of if we're playing at home or on the road.”

Florida is a perfect 8-0 at home this season, which has included wins over Wisconsin, Marquette and No. 17 Missouri.

“We have good energy as a team when we're at home,” senior guard Kenny Boynton said. “ The crowd gets us excited. So it definitely means a lot.”

Donovan is concerned about the problems that South Carolina can present. The Gamecocks are rebuilding, but playing hard under first-year coach Frank Martin. South Carolina is forcing 14.4 turnovers per game and ranked third in the SEC in rebounding margin at plus-7.5.

“Their team is going through a transition with a new coach, but when you watch them on film, it's clear those kids have bought into playing the way Frank wants them to play,” Donovan said.

South Carolina is coming off a 75-54 win over Arkansas. Last week at No. 17 Missouri, the Gamecocks led by eight points at the half before falling 71-65.

“They really put themselves in a position to win every single game, and I think that's a credit to Frank, and their staff, and to the guys in their program,” Donovan said.

For Martin, the game will be a homecoming of sorts. Martin is a Miami native who grew up a Florida basketball fan in the 1980s, during the days of Vernon Delancy and Ronnie Williams. As a coach at Miami High in the late 1990s, Martin had several of his players recruited by UF, including former Gator standouts Udonis Haslem and Brent Wright.

“I've always been appreciative that he felt that way about our program, to actually endorse and be positive about our players coming here,” Donovan said.

But the close relationship between Donovan and Martin will be put aside once the game starts. The Gators will need to contend with South Carolina junior guard Bruce Ellington, who has had big games against the Gators in the past. Ellington returned from South Carolina's football team in December and hasn't missed a beat. The wide receiver/shooting guard is averaging 10.3 points per game.

In his previous four games against UF, Ellington has averaged 17.3 points. That included a 23-point game that led the Gamecocks to a 72-69 upset over the Gators at the O'Connell Center two seasons ago.

“Playing against him in the previous years, as freshman, he gave us problems,” Boynton said. “He's a quick player. He can shoot, the mid-range and the 3. I respect his game. We've got to contain him.”

Florida also will be looking to cut down its turnovers after turning the ball over 14 times last Saturday at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs scored 16 points off the 14 UF turnovers.

“We were a little loose on that against Mississippi State,” Young said. “They had a lot of open-court turnovers, and when you have open-court turnovers, there's no chance to get back on transition defense. Being able to take care of the ball, that's just a really important thing.”

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 13.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg

G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 11.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg

G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Jr. 9.1 ppg, 5.1 apg

F Erik Murphy 6-10 Sr. 12.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg

C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 11.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg

SOUTH CAROLINA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Bruce Ellington 5-9 Jr. 10.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg

G Eric Smith 5-11 Jr. 6.1 ppg, 3.5 apg

F Lakeem Jackson 6-5 Sr. 9.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg

F Michael Carrera 6-5 Fr. 9.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg

F Laimonas Chatkevicius 6-11 Fr. 3.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg

Notes: Florida has won eight in a row, its longest winning streak since starting the 2009-10 season 8-0. The Gators haven't won nine in a row since their 10-game winning streak to close the 2007 national title season. … Florida is 39-22 all-time against South Carolina and 23-11 against the Gamecocks under Billy Donovan. … Florida ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 51.2 points per game. The Gators have held 10 opponents under 50 points and 14 opponents under 60 points. … Junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin is second in the SEC in assists at 5.1 per game. … Senior guard Kenny Boynton is shooting 44 percent (22-of-50) from 3-point range in his last seven games. … Guard Brenton Williams, a transfer from Santa Fe College in Gainesville, is South Carolina's leading available scorer at 11.6 points per game. Leading scorer LaShay Page (11.7 ppg) is out for the season due to academic issues. … Junior forward Casey Prather remains out for the Gators with a high ankle sprain.

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