The Gators basketball team defeated South Carolina 63-49 tonight, clinching the Southeastern Conference Regular Season Title.
This is the third time the Gators have claimed the regular season title, with this year's squad joining the 1989, 2000 and 2001 teams as the only teams in UF history to have achieved the feat. It should be known, though, that in '00 and '01 shared the honor as co-champions.
This is a great honor for this team to join such elite company in UF basketball history, but these players want more, notably an SEC Tournament Title and another National Title under their belt:
Anyways, conference championships aside, this game against South Carolina made for a somewhat uninteresting matchup because of the beatdown the Gators laid down on the Gamecocks in Columbia several weeks ago (UF won by 34 points). Add in a low scoring bout in which the Gators coasted throughout, and you have a game that seemed more like an exhibition than a knock-down, drag-out SEC game.
What did make this game hold some type of excitement value was to see how the Gators would bounce back from their handling in Nashville over the weekend. We all expected the team to come out pretty focused and ready to once again prove why they were looked at in such high esteem all season. While we didn't get the high scoring performance by the Gators offense, we did see this team hold SC to just 13 points in the first half.
I don't care if it was just South Carolina, holding a conference opponent to just 13 points in one half is quite the defensive performance. The Gamecocks' Tre Kelley scored more than that in one half in these two team's first meeting.
Coming into this game I felt that a win of less than double-digits could be considered extremely disappointing. With the Gators shooting rather poorly from the field with a 41% performance, I felt that a 14 point victory over the Gamecocks was just fine -- especially considering the way the Gators defense performed against Vanderbilt over the weekend.
With Florida cold from the field, they needed that type of intense defensive performance this evening. They got it, holding the Gamecocks to 35% shooting (19.2% in the first half). South Carolina was only able to achieve six assists in this one, to go along with only six offensive rebounds. Overall this was a very satisfying performance from a team whose defense was criticized highly this weekend.
Other than a suffocating performance by the Gators defense, there are not too many flashy things to talk about coming out of this victory -- other than the Conference Championship, obviously.
The Gators once again shot the ball well from the free throw line, having now put together a string of games in which they have done this. Tonight they shot 75% (12-16), with Taurean Green going a perfect 6-6. Oddly we didn't see too many foul shots from the big men underneath as Horford, Richard and Noah shooting a combined 7. Getting to the foul line is a must in big games, so that number should increase as the season winds down towards tournament time.
On the foul subject, the Gators only committed six of them on the evening. That's right, six. Players getting in foul trouble was definitely not a problem in this game for the home team.
Horford and Noah combined for nine blocks tonight against a relatively undersized South Carolina frontcourt this evening. While this number is quite impressive out of only two players on the court, these nine blocks were all the Gators accounted for this evening. This isn't a terribly worrisome stat, although I thought Richard could get a few in 24 minutes tonight.
The Gators only cycled eight players tonight, which seems a bit odd considering the way the team was coasting in this one. And with that freshman forward Brandon Powell didn't see the playing court tonight following his altercation with a Vanderbilt fan on Saturday following the game.
Chris Richard scored 14 points off the bench for the Gators in this one, also grabbing six rebounds.
Added teammate Dominique Archie: "They were stronger than us inside."
The above mentioned Al Horford scored 20 points, blocked five shots and grabbed nine rebounds in this game. He had some impressive post moves this evening to go along with several very good jump shots. Number 42 looked very, very good this evening against the Gamecocks.
On to LSU they go, traveling to an opposing arena once again for a big conference matchup. The Tigers may be last place in the SEC West right now, but I still think the Gators get a very tough fight over the weekend.
It's been a great season. Congrats to this team for bringing the Regular Season Title to Gainesville for the first time since '01. We fans hope to see it several more times in the coming years. For now I hope these players are really enjoying this accomplishment -- they earned it.
AP Photo/Phil Sandlin