Last time the Florida Gators and South Carolina Gamecocks met, it was a hard basketball game to watch. With no offense whatsoever from either team into the first six minutes of the game, it was obvious defense would be the deciding factor as two of the top defenses in the country competed with one another.
That is exactly what happened. South Carolina did just enough to steal a 57-53 win at home that came down to the final 40 seconds of the game. Florida’s 0-for-17 night from beyond the arc ended a streak of 850 consecutive games with a made three-pointer for the Gators that dated back to 1992. The only Florida offense to speak of in the game came from Canyon Barry’s 13 points and Kasey Hill’s 11.
The loss ended a seven-game winning streak and the Gators went on to lose to Vanderbilt the very next game. With Florida on an eight-game streak and Kentucky on the horizon, this game has the potential to end in a very similar result if the Gators bring the same offensive performance they did in the previous meeting. Last week’s 57-53 win at Mississippi State very much resembled Florida’s outing at South Carolina.
Mike White discussed the improvements his team needs to make in order to come away with a different result this time around. “Don’t go 0-17 from 3. We’ve got to go at least 1-17 to have a better shot,” he said. “They’re doing a lot of things similarly; we are too. We’ve got to convert, but we’ve also got to do a better job of getting better looks. We can’t allow South Carolina to speed us up as much as they did at their place, and then, we’ve got to have a similar or better defensive effort and I thought we defended pretty well over there.”
With a need for more production, it does not help that arguably the biggest offensive threat on the team, and one of the only players to have any kind of offensive success against the Gamecocks last time, might not even be available.
Barry rolled his ankle in the Mississippi State game and is now considered a game-time decision by White. If he is an option, he likely won’t be at 100 percent. The Gators will need to look to someone else, such as KeVaughn Allen, to play at a higher level and be the difference maker on the offensive end.
“He didn’t go yesterday,” White said on Barry. “I don’t know if he’ll go today. I don’t expect him to go today and he’ll be a game-time decision. There definitely was some swelling. I know if he’ll play, he’ll play.”
The Gators will still look to defense to carry them in the game. Kevarrius Hayes, who played an outstanding game at Mississippi State in the first game without John Egbunu, will need to play well again. He had a career-high 10 boards and four blocks last game, including one block in the final minute to keep the Bulldogs from tying the game.
South Carolina will try to take advantage of Florida’s depth inside by attacking the paint and getting Hayes in foul trouble. There were 27 fouls called against the Gators at South Carolina. If Hayes cannot find a way to stay legal, Florida could be in a world of trouble. The Gators need more than just Hayes to step up, of course, but he will be a huge factor.
“I don’t know if we can get away with him not having a game like that,” White said on Hayes. “In the meantime, without John out there at times, we’re able to show guys clips of, ‘This is where Kevarrius bailed us out here. This is where Kevarrius bailed us out there’. It’s not all about the defense at the five position and the four position. It’s one through three, as well. We’ve all got to get a little bit better and a little more sound … John would clean up six or seven mistakes a game, which allowed us to be a top five defensive team in the country. Kevarrius would at times, as well, but now you don’t have two of those guys. You have one. It’s a big blow defensively.”
Some good news for the Florida is South Carolina hasn’t exactly been playing its best basketball lately. The Gamecocks have lost three of their last four games, which could make them hungry, but also a little discouraged coming into this game.
South Carolina is now two games behind Kentucky and Florida for first place in the SEC heading into the final two weeks of the regular season. Despite the desperation, the Gamecocks will bring to Gainesville, the Gators do not plan on that being a factor.
“I feel like it’s just as important to us as it is to them,” said Hayes. “We know that every game counts. Every game matters. Just because we’re on a win streak, we’re not going to take this game anymore lightly as we would anybody else. It’s going to be a very competitive and physical game. We’re going to rise to the occasion.”