If coming off a rare loss doesn’t provide enough motivation, Florida can accomplish several goals Wednesday night when it hosts South Carolina in an SEC matchup.
The third-ranked Gators (24-3, 11-1) spent most of this season as the nation’s No. 1 team, but dropped two spots following Saturday’s 83-70 loss at Vanderbilt that snapped their school record-tying 17-game win streak.
The defeat was the first for Florida since Dec. 3 and only its third in the past 38 games. The Gators had a 17-game winning streak ended for the third time in two seasons.
Joakim Noah scored 15 points while Corey Brewer and Al Horford added 13 apiece for the Gators, who had a season-high 22 turnovers and allowed the Commodores to shoot 57.1 percent from the field.
“It was tough,” Horford said. “It puts that sour taste in your mouth. I don’t like that taste. Hopefully we won’t have to experience it again. It puts a lot of things in perspective. We can’t take things for granted. We figured that out. We got to get back focused, get back to the things we were doing before. It was definitely an eye-opener for us.”
A win Wednesday will give the Gators at least a tie for the regular-season titles in both the SEC East Division and the conference. It would also be Florida’s school-record 17th at home this season, besting the 1985-86 and 2005-06 teams that went 16-1 and 16-2, respectively.
The Gators have won 17 consecutive home games dating to last season, three shy of the school record.
Florida needs to win just one of its final four games to set a school record for regular-season victories. The 2002-03 and 2005-06 teams each had 24 wins heading into the SEC tournament.
Although his team coasted to an 84-50 victory at South Carolina (13-12, 3-9) on Jan. 13, Florida coach Billy Donovan expects a tougher challenge this time around.
“I think the first time we played them, they were a really banged-up team,” he said. “We’re facing a team that’s totally different from what they were in the middle of January, when we faced them. If you look at them beating Tennessee the way they did, if you watch them play against Vanderbilt, although Vanderbilt won by 10, I think it had been a tie score with about three minutes to go, so we’ve got a lot to get ready for.”
Slow starts have become an issue for Florida, which trailed Vanderbilt by eight at halftime after facing an 11-point deficit the previous game against Alabama before rallying to win.
Noah needs three points to become the third Gator in the past three Wednesdays to reach 1,000. Brewer did it on Feb. 7 and Taurean Green on Feb. 14.
The Gamecocks ended a five-game skid Saturday with an 81-64 victory over visiting Tennessee. Tre’ Kelley scored 25 points and Bryce Sheldon added 16 for South Carolina, which tied a season high with 13 3-pointers.
Kelley has scored at least 21 points in each of his last four games, averaging 25.7 in that span. He is the SEC’s second-leading scorer at 18.2 per game.
Florida has won 11 of the last 13 meetings against South Carolina, and had won seven in a row at home in the series before losing 71-67 on Feb. 8, 2006.