After four consecutive victories, including a pair of wins against top-15 opponents Tennessee and West Virginia, No. 22 Florida cracked the Top 25 this week for the first time since November 2019.
The Gators (10-4, 6-3 SEC) host South Carolina (4-6, 2-4 SEC) in Gainesville on Wednesday night.
Florida coach Mike White credited the two-week break the team took after losing preseason SEC Player of the Year Keyontae Johnson on Dec. 12th for being able to get their season back on track. Johnson collapsed on the court that day during a game against Florida State and was subsequently hospitalized for over a week.
"It's good to know that hopefully your guys will gain a little bit of confidence," White said. "Hopefully that level of confidence will help to have our guys embrace the work even more. Post-Keyontae, this team can still be a very good team."
Colin Castleton and Omar Payne's improved play has been complemented by guards Tre Mann, Tyree Appleby and Noah Locke.
Castleton had 21 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in their 85-80 upset win over then-No. 11 West Virginia on Saturday. Castleton (13.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game) did a solid job in the paint against Mountaineers forward Derek Culver, limiting him to seven points in the second half.
"We were just being soft in the first half and didn't play hard enough," Castleton said. "(Culver) got a bunch of easy buckets that he wasn't supposed to, so kind of just honed in on that in the second half and didn't give him as many easy looks as we did in the first half."
The Gamecocks, who have lost four of their past five, have been ravaged by COVID-19 issues as well as injuries, which have hindered their efforts to maintain any consistent success.
South Carolina got off to an awful start Saturday at Vanderbilt as the Commodores used a 21-5 first-half run to claim an eventual 93-81 win.
Gamecocks coach Frank Martin is hopeful his latest casualty, guard Trae Hannibal, will be available to play against the Gators after hitting the deck hard and exiting the game early.
"Once he was out of the game his back tightened up a little bit and because of the score I wasn't going to put him back out there," Martin said. "Our trainer feels like he's going to be okay."
South Carolina's leading scorer AJ Lawson led the way again with 21 points, but Jermaine Couisnard, a 30.1 percent shooter this season, shot 2-for-15 and finished with six points.
Keyshawn Bryant (15.4 points per game) got into foul trouble early and was limited to 13 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes. Without him, Vanderbilt went 22-for-27 from the free-throw line while South Carolina only made 9-for-14 attempts.
"I probably could have put him back in a little sooner but I didn't," Martin said. "I think he went back with about six minutes to go. I could have put him back in and he could have fouled out at the 12-minute mark, so his minutes would not have changed."
--Field Level Media