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Thursday January 31, 2013Gators Throttle South Carolina for Ninth Straight Win

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- He wasn’t mad at his team or displeased with their effort at practice Tuesday afternoon, yet Florida coach Billy Donovan had his players come back later that night to go over a few more things about the upcoming opponent.

It just so happened the 9 p.m. meeting coincided with the start of the much-anticipated game between Ole Miss, still unbeaten in Southeastern Conference at the time, and defending national champion Kentucky on ESPN.

The same Ole Miss team due in town Saturday.

“Coach wanted us thinking about this game ... not that game,” junior forward Will Yeguete.

If the Gators were any more locked in for Wednesday’s visit from South Carolina, they would had to have been in the Gamecocks’ locker room. How else would you explain the biggest bombing in a Southeastern Conference run of mushroom clouds?

Senior guards Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario scored 15 points, freshman Michael Frazier buried four 3-pointers and UF’s defense stifled USC in a 75-36 beating of historic proportions to the delight of a paid crowd of10,533 at the O’Connell Center.

In winning their ninth straight, the fourth-ranked Gators (17-2, 7-0) held the Gamecocks to their fewest points in Southeastern Conference play since the school entered the league for the 1991-92 season (that’s 22 seasons). South Carolina scored 10 points in the first half, on 3-for-21 shooting (that’s 14.3 percent), were forced into 17 turnovers and trailed by as many as 46 points.

Those 10 points for USC were the least surrendered by the Gators against an SEC foe in the shot-clock era that began in 1986.

“We just try to rip teams’ hearts out early,” Boynton said of his team's defense.

On offense, UF shot 53 percent from the floor and a rip-roaring 57 from 3-point range (12-for-21), with Frazier, Boynton and Rosario accounting for nine of those treys. Boynton also had a career-high seven assists.

Now the third team in UF history to start an SEC season 7-0 (joining the 2002-03 and ’06-07 repeat national champs), this band of Gators has won its league games by an average margin of 28.2 points, with the closest contest a 17-point victory at Georgia a week earlier.

Pretty soon, this team has to be challenged, right?

“We’ll get challenged when a team challenges us, but we’re just going to keep playing our hardest each game,” junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “If it’s not a close game, you can look at it as not a challenge, but we’re still just trying to get better every game.”

Better in this game meant jumping to an 11-2 lead and denying the Gamecocks (12-8, 2-5) a field goal until the 13:40 mark. After that first one, Rosario scored 10 straight points, including a rare 4-point play (a 3-ball from the wing, plus a foul) as the Gators rolled to a 33-10 halftime advantage.

“They did the same thing [to us] they’ve done to every opponent this year,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “They’re rock-solid. They’re sound. What allows them to be so good defensively is how good they are on offense. They rarely take a bad shot. They rarely turn it over. If you try to guard them, they don’t panic.”

Opponents do. UF’s full-court pressure forced six USC turnovers in the game’s first six minutes, setting the tone for a 22-2 edge in points off giveaways.

The Gators scored the first eight points of the second half on a jump hook from center Patric Young (8 points, 8 rebounds), then 3-pointers from Boynton and Rosario. After point guard Bruce Ellington (7 points, 7 turnovers) hit a 3, Young made a jump shot and Boynton canned another 3 to make the score 46-13, with Martin calling a timeout at the 16:46 mark.

At that point, Florida had 16 field goals; South Carolina had four.

“Our main thing was not to let them go on a run,” Boynton said. “We wanted to get every rebound and get out and push it.”

In other words, keep the pedal to the floor.

“Coach Donovan is always talking about the process,” said Frazier, who was 4-for-6 from the arc and also grabbed seven rebounds. “It’s not so much about the opponent. It’s about how we play.”

And how they keep playing, no matter the score.

“What I’ve tried to get across to these guys is [that] when you’re up by a large margin it does not give you the right not to do your job,” Donovan said. “The scoreboard has nothing to do with your responsibility on the court.”

UF's players not only are absorbing that message, but living it. They're doing so against an SEC that is now being ridiculed on a national scale for its lack of competitiveness. The Gators are helping feed that ridicule, but certainly are not part of it.

This is one locked-in team.

“We were afraid of this game,” Yeguete said. “We were on edge and that’s where Coach D wants us to be.”

They’ll be afraid of the next one, too.

Donovan will make sure of it.

“The more you win like this, the more you show what you’re capable of,” Donovan said. “What you want to do as a basketball team is not go backward a step, but continue to grow, get better and improve and understand that that’s the No. 1 priority -- getting better.”

One of the SEC’s better teams is up next. But this one was first. Clearly, the Gators got the message.

The rest of the league is getting it, too.

“That’s why he’s going to be a Hall of Fame coach,” Wilbekin said. “He’s doing a good job of keeping us motivated. Plus, I think the guys on our team understand that in order to do what we want to do, we have to stay focused.”


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