It’s not too often that the Florida Gators are praised for defensive performance this season, but that’s been the case the last two games.
Florida put its best game of the year together in a trip to South Carolina on Saturday after doing nearly the same thing to LSU at home earlier in the week.
The Gamecocks defeated the Gators in Gainesville just a few games back in the first of a three-game SEC losing streak and have had the edge in most matchups in recent history.
That was hard to tell this time around.
The game started rough on the offense end for both teams. It took more than two minutes for a single point to go on the board.
Florida held a 5-0 lead at the first media timeout as South Carolina missed its first six shot attempts.
The Gamecocks tied it at five while the Gators went through a scoring drought over the next few minutes, but that’s as close things would ever come.
Thanks to energetic defense and eight first half blocks by Florida, South Carolina had just seven points with less than seven minutes remaining in the first half.
The Gamecocks found some offensive rhythm in the final minutes of the half, but the Gators still took a 21-point lead (41-20) to the locker room and held them to their lowest first half total of the season.
At the end of the half, all 10 of Florida’s players had scored at least one point, while only four were on the board for South Carolina, and more than half of that came from Frank Booker.
It only got uglier from there as the Gators continued to pour onto their lead. Florida could have been held scoreless in the second half and it only would have been a tie game.
The offense wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t have to be, and it made some strides in areas it’s struggled in for much of the season.
On the other end, the Gamecocks did not make a single field goal in the final 9:27 and finished shooting 15-for-54, making it a pretty easy one to closeout.
Florida came away with its second consecutive hard fought SEC win as it defeated South Carolina 65-41.
“I thought we started playing really hard against LSU,” said head coach Mike White. “Our guys got together and kind of refocused on their overall efforts. I think that the success we had gave us a little bit more confidence coming into this one.”
The Gators came out on top in nearly every statistical category, but the biggest difference was on the boards.
Florida has been one of the worst rebounding teams in the SEC this season, but it looked like the best on Saturday with a 46-24 advantage.
No single player dominated the boards, but nearly everyone contributed. Gorjok Gak was the only Florida player to not grab at least one rebound. Chris Chiozza, Egor Koulechov and Dontay Bassett tied for the team lead with seven apiece.
“From Chris Chiozza all the way down to Mike Okauru and Deaundrae Ballard, everybody contributed on the glass and did their jobs. We were focused on the right stuff. We knew how difficult this challenge would be … I think that’s the standard. That’s what our guys have showed that they’re capable of doing.”
Chiozza also tied with Jalen Hudson to lead the Gators with 12 points.
Again, no one had an outstanding finish in the box score due to all 10 players getting double-figure minutes in the game.
That’s what White wants to be able to do every game with his lineups to keep guys fresh and energetic all the way to the end. The Gators just haven’t had the depth or experience to toy around with it much this year, but it proved to be a great strategy on Saturday.
Florida now wants to find a way to stay consistent and string more of those types of performances together.
“We’ve had some inconsistencies. We’ve had some issues. We’ve got really, really good kids. I’ve said it all year. But our connectivity this year hasn’t been where it needs to be … The last two games, we’ve been as connected as we’ve been all year. This was our best performance of the year. I told Frank [Martin] that. I believe that. To come in here and defend these guys at the clip that we did and rebound the way we did against this program, period, was really, really good for us.”
The Gators will have another huge challenge to face on Wednesday as Georgia comes to town. The Bulldogs defeated Florida 72-60 the last time the two teams met, but this team is playing much better than the one that traveled to Athens a couple weeks ago.