Florida snapped a two-game losing streak with a maximum effort performance Wednesday at home against LSU.
The goal for the Gators now is to take that level of energy on the road with them on Saturday when they play at South Carolina.
“We have to build on this game,” Florida junior guard Jalen Hudson said. “We don’t want to celebrate this. We have to keep the fire and the edge that we played with. We have to sustain this and do this every day in practice.”
Florida coach Mike White said he doesn’t view the matchup as a payback game, despite South Carolina beating Florida 77-72 at the O’Connell Center on Jan. 24. In addition, the Gamecocks ended UF’s national title hopes last season, beating the Gators in the Elite Eight.
“For a hard-nosed, tough, physical team, that might not be the best motivational tool to use with our guys,” White said. “We’ve got to focus on execution. Edge is great, and I’m glad Jalen said that. It starts with him. And KeVaughn (Allen). And Chris (Chiozza). Our guys have to maintain the edge they played with (against LSU).”
South Carolina has dropped four straight since beating the Gators in Gainesville, falling out of contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. But White still views the Gamecocks as a dangerous team.
“One thing that that program controls, that’s their intensity level and their discipline defensively, their physicality,” White said. “They’re always going to play, I think whether they won four in a row or lost four in a row, you’re gonna get the same. I think we’re gonna see the same effort.”
Florida held a team meeting earlier this week to air some concerns following back-to-back double-digit losses against Georgia (72-60) and Alabama (68-50).
“Guys got some stuff out,” White said. “They’re always healthy. When you have good guys, I think meetings are always going to be productive. Again, it was productive for one practice and one game. We’ll see how productive it was and where it leads us.”
The end result was a more focused, intense effort against LSU. The Gators shared the ball more offensively and expended more effort on defense. Florida’s 14 assists against the Tigers were its most in a game since recording 14 assists against Arkansas on Jan. 17. Defensively, Florida held LSU to just three points in the final 5:40 of the game in its 73-64 win.
“People said what they thought,” Florida senior guard Egor Koulechov said. “It was really honest. Definitely helped us in the last game and I think going forward it’s going to be helpful for us as well.”
Koulechov said he doesn’t view the upcoming matchup with South Carolina as a revenge game.
“We try to approach every game the same, whoever we’re playing,” Koulechov said. “In our conference we know every game is tough, we know every opponent is tough. Everybody pretty much knows what everybody wants to do so we just have to treat it as another game and learn from it.”
South Carolina’s goal will be the same as it was when it upset Florida in Gainesville — make the game uncomfortable for UF senior point guard Chris Chiozza and pound the ball inside to experienced big men Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar.
“All of our guys are going to get banged around,” White said. “It’s the nature of the SEC, and South Carolina and Florida. I’d like to be that physical. We’ve got to be more physical. And they play with such a high level of intensity and I respect it. I respect the heck out of it.”
Silva posted a double-double (18 points, 12 rebounds) in South Carolina’s win at Florida last month. The Gamecocks also got an unexpected boost from grad transfer guard Wesley Myers, who scored a season-high 22 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. As a team, South Carolina went 11 of 21 from beyond the arc (52.4 percent) in the win.
“You’ve got to put so much focus on Chris Silva,” White said. “We gave those other guys a little bit too much space and we’ll try and do a better job, but he’s a good player and he’s an older guy and he’s experienced and he plays with a lot of poise. He plays really hard. If we go up there and they shoot plus-50 percent from 3 in addition to having to defend their front court guys, we might as well not make the trip.”
Who: Florida Gators (16-8, 7-4 SEC) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (13-11, 4-7 SEC)
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, S.C.
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G;KeVaughn Allen;6-2;Jr.;11.3 ppg; 2.3 rpg
G;Chris Chiozza;6-0; Sr.;11.9 ppg;6.0 apg
G;Egor Koulechov;6-5; GSr.;14.2 ppg;6.9 rpg
F;Keith Stone;6-8; RSo.;8.5 ppg;3.8 rpg
C;Kevarrius Hayes;6-9; Jr.;5.3 ppg;5.3 rpg
SOUTH CAROLINA PROBABLE STARTERS
G;Evan Hinson;6-4;So.;3.3 ppg;1.6 rpg
G;Hassani Gravett;6-2;Jr.;7.3 ppg;3.6 apg
F;Justin Minaya;6-5;Fr.;8.8 ppg;4.3 rpg
F;Maik Kotsar;6-10;So.;8.1 ppg;4.8 rpg
F;Chris Silva;6-9;Jr.;14.5 ppg;7.3 rpg
Notes: Florida is 44-26 all-time against South Carolina and 21-15 in road games against the Gamecocks. The Gators are only 1-4 against South Carolina against coach Mike White. …. Florida leads the SEC in turnover margin (plus-4.4) while ranking second in 3-pointers per game (9.3). … Three of the top five free throw shooters in the SEC are on UF’s roster. Senior guard Egor Koulechov leads the league in free throw shooting at 91.2 percent, followed by KeVaughn Allen (second) at 90.8 percent and Chris Chiozza (fifth) at 87 percent. … Chiozza leads the SEC in assists (6.0) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3.3-1), while ranking second in the league in steals (2.0 spg). … Redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone is averaging 13.5 points over this last two games. Stone and center Kevarrius Hayes combined for 24 points in UF’s 73-64 win Wednesday over LSU, as the Gators outscored LSU 34-22 in the paint. “Begging for it to continue,” White said. “Those guys did a really good job, both of them on the interior. We need that moving forward, we’ve got to have other ways that we can score.” … Junior guard Jalen Hudson is averaging a team-high 15.8 ppg and is coming off an 18-point, 9-rebound effort against LSU. … On the perimeter, Florida remains in a cold stretch, shooting just 29.4 percent from 3-point range (20-68) over its last three games. The Gators did go 4 for 10 from 3-point range in the second half against LSU, with Koulechov making a pair of 3-pointers. “Just play together, share the ball and move it,” Koulechov said. “When that happens, you get good shots. We missed a few open ones, but at the same time we made some. And we know if we continue sharing it like that, good things will happen.”. … Grad transfer Frank Booker is averaging 11 points per game off the bench for South Carolina. … The Gamecocks are shooting 32.4 percent from 3-point range, but defend the 3-point line well, limiting opponents to just 34.5 percent from beyond the arc.
— Kevin Brockway