UF smothers South Carolina for ninth straight win


Florida guard Mike Rosario laughs after getting fouled and making a three-point shot against South Carolina during the first half at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Wednesday in Gainesville.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 9:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 12:55 a.m.

As the blowouts keep mounting, No. 4 Florida is learning not to play to the scoreboard or the level of its competition.

There was no letting up in Florida's 75-36 win over South Carolina at the O'Connell Center. Walk-on Jacob Kurtz still dove for loose balls in the final seconds of the game, with the Gators up 41 points.

“What I've tried to get across to these guys is when you're up by a large margin, that does not give you the right not to do your job,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “The scoreboard has nothing to do with your responsibility on the court, and they've done a pretty good job playing every possession.”

Florida's 39-point win over the Gamecocks was its largest-ever margin in a 62-game series that dates back to 1926. And it could have been worse. The Gators missed nine free throws (7-of-16) and led by as many as 46 points before bringing in their walk-ons and freshmen late.

Freshman Michael Carrera led South Carolina (12-8, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) with 13 points. Florida held South Carolina to its lowest scoring conference game in 21 years in the SEC.

“The more I studied them on tape, the more I realized there's a reason they've played as well as they have this year,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “When they play here in this building, they take it to even another level.”

Florida (17-2, 7-0) won its ninth straight with another smothering defensive effort, holding an opponent under 40 points for the second time this season and under 50 points for the 11th time this season. In going 7-0 in the SEC, Florida has beaten six SEC opponents by more than 20 points, with three of those wins coming by more than 30 points.

“We'll get challenged when a team challenges us,” Florida junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “That's not something we worry about. We're just going to keep playing hard on offense and defense regardless.”

Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario led the Gators with 15 points apiece. Freshman Michael Frazier II added 12 points off the bench.

Defensively, Boynton held South Carolina junior guard Bruce Ellington to just 7 points on 2-of-9 shooting.

“It starts with defense,” Boynton said. “We just never want to let up defensively. We take that as a challenge.”

The Gators gave South Carolina fits with their press early. Florida forced nine South Carolina turnovers in the first nine minutes, building an early 17-4 lead.

“We want to make teams feel uncomfortable,” Rosario said. “That's our style.”

Florida maintained its defensive intensity for the rest of the half. Rosario scored 10 straight points during a 10-0 run, including a four-point play that put Florida up 21-6.

After Patric Young pinned a South Carolina shot attempt off the backboard for an emphatic blocked shot, Rosario scored on a dunk in transition to extend UF's lead to 33-8. But Rosario was called for a technical for hanging on the rim.

Damien Leonard made both free throws to cut UF's lead to 33-10 at half. It was just one point shy of the fewest points Florida allowed in a first half in the shot-clock era, which was nine in its season opener against Alabama State. It was also the fewest points the Gators have allowed in a half against an SEC team since the 35-second shot clock was instituted in 1986.

Florida held South Carolina to 14.3 percent shooting (3-of-21) in the first half and scored 12 points off 11 South Carolina turnovers.

And still, Wilbekin said the Gators weren't entirely pleased with how they played in the first half.

“There were a lot of lapses,” Wilbekin said. “We were getting out in transition and we weren't making good decisions.”

The Gators came out more settled in the second half, putting the game away with an 8-0 run that included 3-pointers from Rosario and Boynton. Florida finished the game 57.1 percent (12-of-21) from 3-point range. Frazier was 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, while Boynton was 3-of-6.

Florida heads into its matchup with Ole Miss on Saturday on its longest winning streak since winning 10 in a row to close the 2006-07 national title season. But following the game, Donovan still preached the importance of handling success.

“The more you try to live in success, the more capable you are of going backwards,” Donovan said.

FREE THROWS: Junior forward Casey Prather (high ankle sprain) returned to game action for the first time since Jan. 12 against LSU. Prather had two points, two rebounds and an assist in three minutes off the bench. “He returned to full contact practice on Tuesday,” Donovan said. “I wanted to get him in there a little bit in the second half to get a taste of competition. He'll have two more practices on Thursday and Friday, and I'll feel better about him heading into Ole Miss on Saturday.” … Florida's announced attendance of 10,533 was short of a sellout. … UF's 17-2 start is its fourth best two-loss start in school history, behind just 2003-04 (18-2), 2005-06 (20-2), 2006-07 (24-2).

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