SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (9-11, 1-5 SEC) at NO. 12 FLORIDA GATORS (17-4, 5-1) When: 9 p.m. today Where: Stephen C. O'Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla. TV: ESPN2 Tickets: Available at the box office South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 So. (10.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg); G Damien Leonard 6-4 Fr. (6.4 ppg, 1.4 rpg); F Anthony Gill 6-8 Fr. (8.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Sr. (12.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg); C Damontre Harris 6-9 So. (6.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg) Florida's probable starters: G Erving Walker 5-8 Sr. (12.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg); G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Jr. (17.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg); G Bradley Beal 6-3 Fr. (14.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg); F Erik Murphy 6-10 Jr. (10.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg); F Will Yeguete 6-7 So. (4.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg) Notes: South Carolina heads back on the road, in the midst of a stretch of four road games over the next five. ... Florida leads the series 38-22, including a win in Columbia on Jan. 14. ... The series has been split in each of the past three seasons. ... Florida leads the country in 3-pointers per game, averaging over 10. ... The Gators are undefeated at home this year. ... Beal is the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week. Next game: South Carolina hosts No. 1 Kentucky at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
It's South Carolina's turn in the SEC's TV-mandated Thursday-Saturday week, and as a reward, the Gamecocks (9-11, 1-5 SEC) get to travel to No. 12 Florida for a late tip, then host No. 1 Kentucky less than 48 hours later.
"Obviously a big week for us," coach Darrin Horn said on Tuesday, two days before USC was set to be in Gainesville to face the Gators. "We're going against two of the best teams in our league, one of which is the No. 1 team in the country."
The Gamecocks need some solace after a tough loss at Ole Miss, where they had victory in the sights only to see the target vanish. It will be an extremely rough chore having to try and steal a win at Florida, which is playing some of the hottest basketball in the country right now, or stop an opponents' lengthy winning streak against the top-ranked Wildcats.
But they will try. There's nothing else to do. And as Horn says, USC may not throw the fear of God into any opponent, but the Gamecocks are playing aggressively and not giving up.
"Strangely enough, this is a team that continues to build confidence," Horn said.
USC can build on that by continuing to do whatever it can to score the basketball. The Gamecocks got a surprising 15 points from Brenton Williams against the Rebels, but he will still come off the bench against Florida. Although Damien Leonard has shot a mere 3-of-19 since his return to the starting lineup, he will continue to start at shooting guard.
Leonard's rhythm got in flow when he was coming off the bench, his percentage raising above 40 percent from the 3-point line, but regressed when he began starting. Horn will stick with Leonard, as the only other option is Brian Richardson - Williams is more of a point guard and Richardson is as offensively challenged as Leonard.
"I'm taking good shots, because if I was taking bad ones, I wouldn't be playing," Leonard said. "It's nice to know that (Horn) believes in me, because I believe in him."
There's also the matter of Bruce Ellington, who is still running hot and cold in terms of his scoring. Ellington's greatest gift, driving the lane and twisting through traffic for a layup, has resulted in opponents camping on him in the paint and rejecting the shot. There's only so much a 5-foot-9 player can do against the giants that populate the SEC insides.
"I think it's understanding the reads and discovering that teams are going to key on him," Horn said. "He has to understand when the situations to drive the lane are better."
USC is playing against a Florida team that has won five straight, including a 79-65 win in Columbia on Jan. 14. The Gators have a deep bench, can get scoring from anybody and are one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country.
USC has been very strong defensively in its last two games but going on the road to the noisy O'Connell Center may be a deterrent.
But all the Gamecocks can do is try.
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