Gamecocks travel to face red-hot Gators

pobley@thestate.comJanuary 29, 2013 

USC's Bruce Ellington drives past Arkansas' Fred Gulley in the second half of the Gamecock's 75-54 win.

C MICHAEL BERGEN — mbergen@thestate.com

It was a notable victory for the USC men’s basketball team over the weekend when it doused Arkansas, 75-54.

The 21-point margin of victory was the Gamecocks’ largest in SEC play since 2006.

Florida has beaten its six conference opponents to date by an average of 26.5 points.

Welcome to the big show, USC.

The Gamecocks travel to No. 4 Florida on Wednesday and will face one of the country’s hottest teams at 16-2 overall and 6-0 in league play.

How hot are the Gators? Consider they return home after whipping Mississippi State by 35 points in Starkville, where USC lost by a basket.

“They’re national championship good, from what I’m watching,” USC coach Frank Martin said.

Florida has four players averaging at least 11.2 points per game — two guards and two post players. The Gators lead the SEC in 3-point baskets per game (8.4), 3-point percentage (.382) and overall field goal percentage (.493). Four players are shooting better than 50 percent from the field.

But the one stat that has made Martin perk up is Florida’s assists-to-baskets ratio. More than 56 percent of Florida’s field goals have come off assists.

Martin said during his time at Kansas State, he marveled at instate rival Kansas and its ability to convert in much the same manner.

“I had to beat Kansas for the last six years, so I studied them inside and out,” Martin said. “It was always amazing to me their ratio between assists to made field goals. Every game was incredible.

“To see the same ratio — assists to made baskets — is unbelievable,” Martin continued. “I can tell you, defensively, it’s a heck of a lot easier to stop a team that plays through one guy than it is to stop a team that plays through multiple outlets.”

What does it mean? Florida does a superb job of getting the ball to the open man. And the entire team does a good job of getting open.

“People pay too much attention to the guy that scores,” Martin said. “It’s the guys that are willing to screen and pass. If you only have two guys that are going to screen and pass, it makes it easier to guard. Every one of their guys screens and every one of their guys pass, which enables them to have balance because you have to guard everybody.”

Billy Donovan said the assists to baskets number is something he is keenly aware of and it’s a point of emphasis with the Gators.

“I think the biggest thing is guys are recognizing what’s open,” Donovan said. “You’d like to be up between 17 and 22 (assists). That’s an ideal number. When we do that, we become difficult to guard because we have a lot of different pieces and the floor is being spaced.”

Florida is averaging 15.1 assists per game and 73.7 points with an average margin of victory of 26.2 points. When the Gators manage 17 or more assists, those numbers improve markedly — 81.6 points per game with an average victory margin of 31.6 points.

Florida has reached the magic mark in half of its SEC games. Against Mississippi State, the Gators recorded a season-best 23 assists in a 35-point victory.

All the while, Donovan said the key to the Gators’ success is focusing on what’s next. He equated it do being in a car on the highway, staying in the lane, both hands on the wheel and looking straight ahead.

The rankings and the team’s overall success, none of it matters Wednesday night.

“All of the stuff you’re talking about — the rankings, the record — all of it is in the past,” Donovan said. “What about today? I don’t think as a coach going into the South Carolina game, that, OK, we’re just going to show up and win by 20. Those things kind of happen because we played well and we defended and got stops.

“(USC) is going to really guard you. They’re a great rebounding team. They work really hard at that,” Donovan continued. “(Bruce) Ellington is an explosive, athletic guard, they’re getting good scoring from (Brian) Richardson and (Brenton) Williams, (Michael) Carrera is a hard-nosed guy up front. When you watch them on film, its clear those kids have bought into how Frank wants them to play.”

WHO: USC (12-7, 2-4 SEC) vs. Florida (16-2, 6-0)

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.

TV: SEC Network (in Columbia area, WOLO, TWC-5)

RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5

SERIES: Florida leads 39-22

COACHES: Frank Martin (129-61 in six seasons, 12-7 in first season at USC); Billy Donovan (437-180 in 19 season, 402-160 in 17 seasons at Florida)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: A USC victory at Gainesville, would be the school’s first win against a ranked opponent since an 83-75 overtime victory against No. 22 Vanderbilt on March 6, 2010. … USC has lost three consecutive games against Florida. … Four Florida starters average at least 11.2 points per game, led by Erik Murphy and Kenny Boynton’s 13.6. The fifth, Scottie Wilbekin, is the reigning SEC player of the week after averaging 14.3 points over his past three games. … Florida makes a habit of opening each half strong. In their last game against Mississippi State, the Gators began the game with a 20-6 run, then opened the second half with an 18-4 run. … Florida ranks second nationally in scoring margin (+22.6), opponent rebounding (27.7) and is third in scoring defense (51.2 ppg.).

Patrick Obley

PROBABLE STARTERS

GAMECOCKS

POS.HT.NAMEPPG.
G5-11Eric Smith6.1
G5-9Bruce Ellington10.3
F6-5Lakeem Jackson9.7
F6-11Laimonas Chatkevicius3.9
F6-5Michael Carrera9.6

GATORS

POS.HT.NAMEPPG.
G6-2Kenny Boynton13.6
G6-3Mike Rosario11.8
G6-2Scottie Wilbekin9.1
F6-10Erik Murphy13.6
C6-9Patric Young11.2

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