Me being here last year, I remember what that game went like, senior guard Brenton Williams said on Tuesday. Frank said that he had kind of put the schedule he did put together to make similar atmospheres like Florida.
South Carolina was 2-4 in the SEC on Jan. 30 last year, heading to Florida to face another strong edition of the Gators. The Gamecocks were coming off a win against Arkansas and thought they were on the cusp of turning the corner yes, they had lost four SEC games, but by a combined 18 points. They were right there.
Florida revealed how far that corner was.
The Gators hammered USC 75-36, the worst SEC loss in school history and Frank Martins worst loss as a head coach. The Gamecocks never shook the debacle as the loss triggered a six-game losing streak. USC stumbled away a strong nonconference season and finished 14-18, 4-14 in the league.
Martin blamed himself for the easy nonconference season, saying that it didnt do nearly enough to toughen USC when it came time for the SEC, and didnt prepare the Gamecocks for what it would take to win. Martin took steps to make sure it wouldnt happen again.
This seasons nonconference schedule was significantly stronger, and after a rough start, USCs hatchlings have responded to win their past four and stand 7-6 entering SEC play. All isnt perfect, but the Gamecocks feel good about themselves as they again head into the gauntlet of the SEC, which begins Wednesday at Florida.
We know what to expect from the get-go, said Williams, who has averaged 17.4 points over his past five games. Not being psyched out by the crowd. We should be definitely more prepared next time.
If you finish in the upper half of your conference, then the strength of your nonconference schedule gets you into the NCAA tournament, Martin said. But you still have to win games, thats the bottom line. Everyones goal is to win the league, but if you dont win the league, the goal is the top third. Now were going to find out how ready we are for conference play.
Once again, Florida (11-2, 0-0 SEC) is loaded with talent. The Gators rose past an early season filled with injuries and suspensions to crack the countrys Top 10, and this could be the season that has eluded Florida for the past three. The Gators have been to three consecutive Elite Eights, but havent found the one more victory to get to the Final Four.
With four seniors in the starting lineup and McDonalds All-Americans on the bench, Florida might be the best team in the SEC, no matter how much NBA talent Kentucky rolls on the court every night. Its a formidable challenge for USC, one that it will face again in Columbia on March 4 in the home finale, but its the next game on the schedule.
No use looking at the stretch (which is as brutal as usual), since those games are in the future. Wednesday night is about Florida and the chance to start the SEC 1-0.
Its also a chance to see what Martin wants for the Gamecocks, what he had at Kansas State and what he hopes to have here.
You can argue that theyve been the most consistent program in this league since the late 90s, Martin said. The process of a winning program is already in place. When you get that culture of winning in place thats hard to overcome as an opposing team, but thats the challenge weve got right now. But Im excited where were at.
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