Florida enters SEC play as the league's highest-ranked team and much closer to being at full strength than when the season began.
The No. 10 Gators can tie a school record with their 24th straight home victory when they face improving South Carolina on Wednesday night.
Florida (11-2) began the season ranked 10th behind only then-No.1 Kentucky in the SEC. Coach Billy Donovan said at the time that his team was "light years away from even being ranked."
Part of the issue was that the Gators started with three players suspended and a few others injured. Now nearly everyone is available for Donovan except highly touted forward Chris Walker, who is still waiting for the NCAA Clearinghouse to rule him eligible to play.
"I think we're a better team (than before)," Donovan said. "I don't know where we should be ranked at this point in time. I think we've played some very, very good teams. ... In a lot of ways, you can move up in the rankings based on what teams do in front of you, and if a team doesn't lose games, you are never going to move up."
Florida is 12-5 in SEC openers under Donovan, including 8-0 at home. The Gators can match the 24-game home win streak set from March 1, 2006-Nov. 20, 2007.
The Gators have a huge edge in experience with senior starters Will Yeguete, Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin and Pat Young. Prather is averaging a team-high 17.3 points and shooting an SEC-leading 61.0 percent.
"He's playing more to his own identity as a player," said Donovan of Prather. "He's not doing things offensively that are weaknesses for him, he's playing to his strengths."
Prather and Yeguete weren't starters in a 75-36 home rout of South Carolina (7-6) on Jan. 30. The Gators led 33-10 at halftime in their fourth straight win in the series, as the Gamecocks finished with their lowest SEC point total in history.
None of the players who started that contest are currently starters for coach Frank Martin, whose squad has won four straight. He's ecstatic about his team's record after it opened 2-5.
"Of the teams that have played the 20 toughest schedules in the country, only two have winning records - now with us I'm guessing it would be three," Martin said. "And of BCS schools, we have the third-toughest schedule in the country."
Tyrone Johnson has totaled 35 points off the bench in his last two games for the Gamecocks, who won 82-75 at home over South Carolina State on Friday. Brenton Williams is averaging 18.3 points during this win streak.
The Gamecocks, the SEC's worst shooting team at 43.4 percent, had outrebounded five straight foes before they were beaten 35-31 on the glass.
"When I played, I was a bad player," Martin said. "You put me in this game today with two bad knees and about 50 pounds heavier than I was when I used to play, I'd grab more than zero rebounds. That's just a fact of life."
Florida enjoyed a 44-22 rebounding advantage in a 67-58 win over Richmond on Saturday. Michael Frazier II scored a game-high 18.
The Associated Press News Service
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