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March 4, 2014

Hoops preview: Florida

No. 1 Florida (27-2, 15-0) at South Carolina (11-18, 4-12)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Colonial Life Arena (18,000)
Series: Florida leads 43-22
Last meeting: Florida won 74-58 over USC on Jan. 8, 2014, in Gainesville, Fla.

If you're inclined to think South Carolina's triumphant win over then-No. 17 Kentucky will have a carryover to tonight's game against No. 1 Florida, don't let Frank Martin hear you say it.

"It's business as usual," Martin said about his team's approach. "We as coaches, we don't get too high after wins, too low after losses. It's about the next day, it's about the process. It's how we work and kind of what we want our kids to learn and understand.

"You can't get too wrapped up in a roller coaster of emotions because of your last game. You have to enjoy it when you figure out a way to win, it has to hurt when you don't when but then you have to disengage from those emotions and get prepared for the next day."

The challenge of the next day is a big one - No. 1 Florida. Martin said nothing short of the best basketball possible will give the Gamecocks a chance to spring a second major upset in as many games.

"I'm not just a friend of Billy (Donovan), I'm a fan," Martin said. "We're going to have to play the best game that we've played in my time here at the University of South Carolina to have a chance."

Martin also has a friend in Donovan, who said he has tremendous respect for the job Martin is doing in Columbia.

"Frank does a great job with his teams," Donovan said. "If you go back to Kansas State and now at South Carolina, they've got a system in place. They're going to play a certain way. They're aggressive. They're physical. They execute very, very well.

"We played South Caroling the first game of the year, and a lot has probably changed for both of our teams. I think we've improved, clearly they've improved. I think Frank's done a great job with his team creating the identity that he wants his team to play with.

"Obviously they dealt with a difficult injury the third or fourth game with Tyrone Johnson, but they're playing very good basketball. It'll be a tough test. Both teams, there's some familiarity because we have played each other once, but I do think that was certainly a long time ago and there's a lot to get re-acquainted with."

Donovan said what stands out to him has been the play of guards Brent Williams and Sindarius Thornwell.

"You talk about a guy like Williams, (he) maybe doesn't get the notoriety that some other guys get in this league with the way he's performed and the way he's played," Donovan said.

"I think Thornwell, playing him earlier in the year being a freshman, being young, has definitely grown (him). He continues to evolve, get better. He's playing exceptional basketball. He's a big, strong physical perimeter player. He can do it in a lot of different ways. I think Frank puts those guys in good situations using screens and giving them an opportunity to play to their skill set, so as a freshman what Thornwell is doing is really, really impressive."

With tonight being the final home game of the year its Senior Night, and both Williams and Bruce Ellington will be honored, along with Carlton Geathers and head manager Sean Dougherty. Martin said both Williams and Ellington have made the program immeasurably better.

"Senior Day is a day I have an unbelievable amount of appreciation for," Martin said. "Brent Williams, his growth as a player and his willingness to believe in our vision, to work at it, to sacrifice, to give us a chance to win games and the year he's had (has been great).

"If you look at his shooting numbers from a shooting perspctive, you can put them up there against anyone else. He's been phenomenal. Ninety-six percent from the foul line, he shoots a high percentage from the three-point line.

"And then Bruce, I have as much respect for him as any athlete I've ever been around. He was around our team for about 12, 14 days and he made an unbelievable impact on our team and our young kids. It's a day that I appreciate a lot."

Three keys to victory

KEEP IT GOING: What I mean by that is against Kentucky, South Carolina beat the Wildcats playing as a complete team for a complete game. There weren't stretches when one or two or three players would ignite then disappear, leaving the burden on a small few to compete with everything they had all the time. From Laimonas Chatkevicius to Thornwell to Brian Steele to Williams, everyone on the court believed in each other and gave everything they had. Keep that going, and there may be one more upset in the 2014 tank, if not tonight then perhaps in Atlanta at the SEC Tournament.

LET CARRERA BE CARRERA: Against Kentucky, Martin slid Carrera to the three-spot on the floor where he can be more of a mismatch, and he responded with 11 points and 7 rebounds, the first time he's been in double figures in points since Jan. 25 at Missouri. He's averaging 10.6 rebounds per game over his last three contests, so keeping him moving in the right direction gives the Gamecocks a dimension they sorely lack when he's off.

EMBRACE THE MOMENT: On Senior Night, send Williams off the right way. Feed him the ball, encourage him to score, see if you can't get the guy 30-plus points. I've said I know Williams has a 40-point night in him, and wouldn't it be something if he can knock on that door in his last home game as a Gamecock? There's absolutely no reason not to let him try to after all he's given to this program through two of the toughest years imaginable.

Probable starting lineups:

South Carolina
G - #0 Sindarius Thornwell, 6-5, 206 Fr. (13.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
G - #1 Brent Williams, 5-11, 172 Sr. (15.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg)
F - #24 Michael Carrera, 6-5, 214 So. (6.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
F - #25 Midaugas Kacinas, 6-7, 210 So. (5.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
F - #21 Demetrius Henry, 6-9. 215 Fr. (4.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg)

G - #5 Scottie Wilbekin, 6-2, 176 Sr. (13.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
G - #20 Michael Frazier II, 6-4, 199 So. (12.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
F - #15 Will Yeguete, 6-8, 230 Sr. (5.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
F - #24 Willie Caulie-Stein, 7-0, 244 So. (7.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
C - #4 Patric Young, 6-9, 240 Sr. (10.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg)

Next game: South Carolina travels to Mississippi State Saturday at 4 p.m. in the final game of the regular season.

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