Top-ranked Gators meet Gamecocks in SEC clash

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Updated: 3/07 9:54 am

Columbia, SC (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-ranked Florida Gators will attempt to keep their school- record winning streak alive on Tuesday night, as they play their final road game of the season against the South Carolina Gamecocks in SEC action.

With its 79-61 triumph over LSU on Saturday afternoon, Florida won its 21st consecutive game to move to 16-0 in the SEC, which is the most league wins its has ever amassed. The Gators, who have already clinched the SEC regular-season title, are 27-2 overall, surpassing the 2006-07 national championship squad (26-5) for most regular-season victories in program history.

The season as a whole has not been very kind to South Carolina, as it sits at just 11-18 overall and 4-12 in the SEC, but it pulled off a shocker at home on Saturday night when it downed nationally-ranked Kentucky, 72-67. The win snapped a three-game losing skid for the Gamecocks, who are now a solid 9-6 at Colonial Life Arena.

Florida leads the all-time series with South Carolina, 41-22, which includes five straight wins.

The Gators did what was expected of them at home over the weekend, as they never trailed in the 18-point victory, outshooting LSU from the field, 57.4 percent to 38.3 percent, while also shooting a red-hot 13-of-23 from 3-point range. Dorian Finney-Smith came off the bench to connect on four of those long-range buckets on his way to 16 points. Michael Frazier and Casey Prather netted 14 points apiece, while Scottie Wilbekin added 11 points to the winning effort.

On the season, Florida enjoys an impressive offensive attack, as it shoots 46 percent from the field for 71.0 ppg, but the biggest reason for its ascent to the country's top ranking has been its outstanding defensive effort, which ranks in the top-10 nationally in allowing just 58.7 ppg. It also lives comfortably in terms of its rebounding (+5.3) and turnover (+2.5) margins, but it's not without weakness, as its free-throw percentage (.676) has been less than ideal. Prather leads the way with 14.8 ppg on 61.3 percent field goal shooting. Wilbekin brings 13.4 ppg to the table, Frazier (12.2 ppg) has made 83 3-pointers at 42.6 percent efficiency and Patric Young (10.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Finney-Smith (9.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg) have been solid in the paint.

The Gamecocks opened up a commanding 16-point lead early in the second half of their latest game, and they managed to stave off a late Kentucky comeback to take down one of the biggest upsets in the nation this season. Although they shot just 39.6 percent from the field and lost the rebounding battle (46-28), they played lock-down defense, holding UK to a lowly 26.9 percent shooting. Brenton Williams was nearly automatic at the free-throw line (15-of-16) on his way to a game-high 24 points, while Sindarius Thornwell and Michael Carrera added 14 and 11 points, respectively.

It's safe to say that South Carolina's performance over the weekend was not indicative of its season success, as it scores just 69.4 ppg, while allowing 71.0 ppg. Williams has been consistently stellar as the top scoring option, netting 15.0 on an impressive 78-of-182 from beyond the arc (.429), and as he showed against UK, he's an outstanding free-throw shooter, ranking first in the nation in knocking down 95.3 percent of his attempts. Thornwell is the only other player to average in double figures with 13.5 ppg but he does so on a lackluster 37.7 percent from the floor.

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