Defense lifts Florida to win at South Carolina

South Carolina forward Maik Kotsar works the ball past Florida forward Dontay Bassett (21) and guard Chris Chiozza during the first half Saturday in Columbia, S.C [The State via AP]

COLUMBIA, S.C. –  For an afternoon, at least, Florida delivered blows instead of taking them, stood its ground rather than giving in.

The Gators maintained the edge they showed earlier in the week with a smothering defensive performance in a 65-41 win over South Carolina before 14,629 at Colonial Life Arena.

How good were the Gators defensively Saturday? It was the second-fewest points the Gators have allowed in three seasons under Mike White and the fewest against an SEC opponent. Florida matched a season-high with 10 blocked shots and grabbed a season-high 35 defensive rebounds while posting its best rebounding margin of the season (46-24).

“We’ve had games where we played like that, but we haven’t been able to put it together for the full 40,” Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza said. “We were able to do that today. That was the first time we were able to play like that for a full game.

“We needed that. It shows we can do it. We know where the bar stands for us and what kind of team we can be. We can still improve in some areas and that’s what we’re going to try to do every day, come out with that same attitude, come out better.”

The only time Florida allowed fewer points under White was when it beat Virginia 65-39 in the Round of 32 in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. In that performance, UF’s season was on the line. In this performance, Florida played like its season was on the line.

“If you play this hard, does it guarantee success, absolutely not,” White said. “But it gives you a chance night in and night out.”

The Gators (17-8, 8-4 SEC) avenged a 77-72 home loss to South Carolina on Jan. 24 by holding the Gamecocks to 27.8-percent shooting from the floor and 15.4 percent from 3-point range (2-13). South Carolina made 11 3-pointers and shot 52.4 percent from 3-point range in the win in Gainesville.

“We really focused on not letting them get any comfortable 3s off,” Chiozza said. “They are not a great 3-point shooting team, but they hit a bunch against us last time and most of them were wide open. We just tried to let them not get any easy shots.”

Chiozza led the Gators with 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while junior guard Jalen Hudson also scored 12 points. The Gators raced to a 41-20 halftime lead, getting 19 bench points. All 10 of UF’s players who appeared in the game scored in the first half.

But the story of the game was defense. South Carolina guard Wesley Myers, who scored 22 points in Gainesville, was held scoreless in 20 minutes on the floor. Florida also was able to get junior forward Chris Silva in early foul trouble. Silva, who had 18 points and 12 rebounds in Gainesville, was held to 10 points and five rebounds.

“It was all of us doing our jobs,” Florida junior center Kevarrius Hayes said. “Our job is to fight around screens, play in the post, guard in the post and we definitely did that.”

Florida built off its 73-64 win over LSU on Wednesday in Gainesville in which the Gators held the Tigers to just three points in the final 5:40.

“The last two games we’ve been as connected as we’ve been all year,” White said.

Florida set the tone it wasn’t going to get pushed around early, blocking a pair of shots within the game’s first three minutes.

“From the tip, locked in, in a stance, getting to shooters at a higher level, just playing with as much energy as we’ve played with all year,” White said.

Florida maintained its defensive edge in the second half, which has been an issue in prior games. The Gators never let South Carolina cut their lead below 17 points in the second half, holding the Gamecocks to 22.2 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes. Defensively, Florida demonstrated better communication in the second half away from UF’s bench.

“We know that sometimes because we’re a little further from the bench some things go unsaid,” Hayes said. “Basically, we just had to say everything, what are you doing, who are you supposed to be guarding. As long as somebody is talking how can you go wrong?”

White said Florida’s effort on the boards was a result of five guys doing their jobs and going after the ball with two hands. Against a physical South Carolina team, Florida posted its first positive rebounding margin since outrebounding Arkansas 40-36 on Jan. 17.

“I’ve never coached a team that got beat by 20-something on the glass,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said.

South Carolina (13-12, 4-8 SEC) dropped its fifth straight game. Martin opened his news conference apologizing to fans for his team’s performance.

“We showed up to play, but then Florida said we’re not losing to you guys again,” Martin said. “They ratcheted up the competitiveness of the game we looked for the backdoor and snuck out of the fight.”


FLORIDA (17-8)

Stone 0-2 3-3 3, Hayes 2-2 2-6 6, Chiozza 5-7 2-2 12, Koulechov 4-7 0-0 9, Hudson 5-12 1-1 12, Bassett 2-5 0-0 4, Gak 0-0 1-2 1, Ballard 2-3 2-2 6, Okauru 3-8 0-0 8, Allen 1-6 2-2 4. Totals 24-52 13-18 65.


Minaya 1-3 0-0 2, Silva 4-12 2-3 10, Kotsar 2-10 1-2 5, Hinson 0-1 0-0 0, Gravett 1-3 0-0 2, Gueye 0-0 0-0 0, Haase 1-3 0-0 2, Cudd 0-0 3-6 3, Beatty 0-3 0-0 0, Booker 6-13 3-4 17, Myers 0-4 0-0 0, Holden 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 15-54 9-15 41.

Halftime_Florida 41-20. 3-Point Goals_Florida 4-13 (Okauru 2-4, Koulechov 1-1, Hudson 1-4, Chiozza 0-1, Allen 0-3), South Carolina 2-13 (Booker 2-7, Minaya 0-1, Beatty 0-1, Gravett 0-1, Kotsar 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Florida 43 (Bassett, Chiozza, Koulechov 7), South Carolina 23 (Silva, Kotsar 5). Assists_Florida 9 (Allen, Chiozza 3), South Carolina 7 (Minaya, Gravett 2). Total Fouls_Florida 16, South Carolina 16. Technicals_South Carolina coach Frank Martin. A_14,629 (18,000).


  1. Beautiful game with one obvious flaw: shot clock violations, particularly with Chiozza on the bench. It wasn’t just the tenacious SC defense. It was a lack of quick passing that kept the ball on the perimeter of the perimeter. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this spanking of the gamecocks and their infantile coach.

  2. Nice, but too little, too late. Should beat Georgia at home but will lose the other five regular season games. Then, when they lose their first game in the SEC tourney, with 14 losses, they are NIT bound.

  3. Though it worked in this game, I’m not a big fan of slowing down your game way too early in the shot clock. When FL was up around 20 in the 2nd half after a short SC run, the announcer said if SC could make 4 defensive stops in a row and then make 4 offensive baskets at the same time, SC could get back in the game. So, how many games have there been all over the country where a 20 pt plus lead was blown? Keep playing your game until inside of 8-10 minutes left, then work the clock

    • Agreed!!, was going to write the same. All that does is deflate the team and give the other team a chance. keep playing, keep pushing, don’t let the other team think they have a chance to catch up. Maybe if we are well ahead, at the 2 or three minute mark then take the air out of the ball.

  4. I would’ve liked for them to continue the offensive flow that they did for a lot of the game….moving with and without the ball, in the last 8-10 min., even after the game was well in hand. They just don’t run a great “take the air out of the ball” offense, which I feel has allowed teams to come back on them in probably half of their losses. Other than that…was very proud of the paint defense today, probably the best all season. Makes it a lot easier to defend the arc. Keep it up Gators.

  5. Considering USC gave up 83, 81, 83 in their last 3 games, its not time to declare Gators are back. This team just cannot play slow ball period. I don’t care if they are up by 20, they still need to be up tempo.

    • I agree with you Joseph. The only reason I can see them wanting to do it as soon as they can is to save their legs. Unfortunately for them, they seem to have a hard time picking the tempo back up when they need to.

    • I don’t know how people can be distracted by trivia like the announcers and the refs when watching the Gators completely dominate a conference opponent on the road. I saw a few calls break for each team and detected no bias or overhyping on the part of the announcers, my two greatest pet peeves for announcers. Regardless of all the little details, this was a wonderfully dominant performance against a team that was being described days ago as one White just couldn’t beat.

  6. It’s amazing what this team can do when they play tough, organized, in your face basketball rather than the ‘hey look at me’ playground ball that they are so fond of. If they keep playing this way there’s no telling how far they can go, with or without Egbunu. Great job, Gators, and, please, keep playing this way.

  7. I think a key to this game, which was started last game, was getting more of the bench involved early. Bassett had 7 boards I think–that is awesome! If not for a silly foul with :02 sec, we probably hold them under 40. We are staying fresher throughout the game, allowing us to keep up the intensity the last 10 minutes. If we keep getting solid bench minutes (and I mean other than Hudson), then perhaps a deep run is possible. But…after the next two games comes the meat–UT, Auburn, Bama and UK (probably the 4th best team in this list!!!!)

  8. How about some predictions for opening game starting lineup next season? I’ll say Okauru, Hudson, Ballard, Stone and will take a flyer on Chase Johnson. They should also have some big help coming off the bench. Michelle wouldn’t start Allen at the point instead of Okauru, would she?!

  9. Best defensive effort I have seen pretty much all season. The key is to continue to pressure the opponents 3 pt. shots no matter how far out they are and as tough as it may be for Hayes, he’s got to establish better position in the paint for rebounding. As a great shot blocker he times his jumps well, he needs to do the same rebounding. It was also good to see Gak play a little better defense under the boards.

  10. This team can be scary good if they can just buy in all the time. I know they want to shoot all the time and be the highest scoring team as they did at the beginning of the year but defense wins championships. Donovan really understood this and this speaks well to Mike White as he is getting a bunch of shooting stars to play as a defensive team! I agree with others , I hate it when a coach tries to run out the clock by killing his defense, HUGE mistake! I have seen so many games lost by doing that, especially in football yet coaches never learn. How many games have you seen lost by “prevent defense”, they never learn!

  11. Changing up the players really helped. Finally, they played with heart and determination and grit. They played defense. They rebounded the ball. They did not settle for 3’s. They took the ball to the basket. There was much better ball movement and player movement. The only criticism was that there were way too many shot clock violations and late shot clock shots. We need to get into the offensive earlier and run and push the ball a little more. Overall, a very good game. Much improved. One other thing. KA is not a good ball handler. He does not look comfortable handling the ball at all. Too many turnovers. Don’t put him at the point. Let one of the other guards handle the ball. Let KA just set up to shoot.

  12. Relying more on the bench was a good move. Starting Hudson and rewarding him for his good effort is a smart move. I like bringing Allen off the bench. Getting more minutes from Bassett and Gak was key too. Got to have Hayes fresh and without foul trouble. Okuru has a lot to offer too by keeping Cheez fresh. If we can get minutes from our bench and consistent defensive effort like this, we’ll be a fun team to watch down the stretch. Go Gators!

  13. Two good games in a row — big deal! White has ALREADY all but poisoned this season. Come on, look how many games he frittered away this season by not giving the bench an opportunity. The rest of the regular season, here’s what we’re looking at: Gators will choke at Vandy and get throttled at both Tennessee and Alabama. Georgia, at home, gosh, they can’t blow that one, right? With Auburn’s moxie (translated: they have a real coach) and Kentucky’s pedigree, Florida loses both those in Gainesville. THIRTEEN losses going into the SEC tourney — Florida will not get in with that number of losses and they sure as hell aren’t going to win the conference tourney!
    Wait and see, I won’t crow too loudly. Well, on second thought, maybe. Need to mention again that White will end the season with 12-13 losses as FAVORITE — TWICE as many as ANY OTHER Div. 1 coach. Can you grasp that?! Are you kidding me?! Many thousands of us Gator fans long to see that headline: New Coach, New Beginning for Gators Basketball 2018-19.

  14. I can’t get off of this one. White started Hill over Cheez the last two years. Unfathomable! Oh, I guess Mike thought Hill was better or that Hill would give the team the best chance of winning. Horses**t! Imagine what Florida would have done those two years if Florida had a real coach?

  15. Speaking of ”Horses**t”, you, bf, remind of that (Horses**t), and a story…
    ”The smallest billy goat is the first to cross and is stopped abruptly by the troll who threatens to ‘gobble him up!’ However, the little goat convinces the troll to wait for his big brother to come across, because he is larger and would make for a more gratifying feast. The greedy troll agrees and lets the smallest goat cross.
    The medium-sized goat passes next. He is more cautious than his brother, but is also stopped by the troll and given the same threat. The second billy goat is allowed to cross as well after he tells the troll to wait for the biggest billy goat because he is the largest of the three.
    The third billy goat then gets on the bridge and is stopped by the hungry troll. The troll threatens to devour him, however, the third billy goat challenges him and knocks the troll off the bridge with his horns. The troll falls into the stream and is carried away by the current. From then on the bridge is safe, and all three goats are able to go to the rich fields around the summer farm in the hills, and they all lived happily ever after!” -Wikipedia’s summary of the classic story, ”Three Billy Goats Gruff.”
    That was YOUR authentic ”troll story”, ”bf”!
    As you, ”bf”, seem to have forgotten that YOU, A TROLL, LOSE in the end. Much like Satan loses in the end (see: The Book of Revelation). So please, bf, go troll at the Clemson Tigers’ online site, or perhaps the Miami Hurricanes’ site suits you better. Either way, this I know…
    a FLORIDA GATOR could easily eat you, bf, a troll, and the 3 goats that so easily tricked you!
    And all in one meal, too! You see, bf… it is truly ”great to be a FLORIDA GATOR!”
    And one of our perks is getting trolls like you all riled up!