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Fewer turnovers critical for Gators

The glaring statistic in Knoxville 26 days ago was 10 assists and 15 turnovers. In that Saturday Southeastern Conference opener, the Florida Gators basically gave the game away. Since that embarrassing, 67-56, loss to Tennessee, Florida has reeled off five straight wins with an impressive 74 assists and only 39 turnovers. In wins over Ole Miss and Mississippi State the Gators have 36 assists and just 11 turnovers, which has kept them in the lead nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.55-1).

If the 12th-ranked Gators (17-4, 5-1 SEC) are to extend their SEC winning streak to six and their Stephen C. O’Connell Center streak to 18 games tonight (9 p.m., ESPN2) when South Carolina (9-11, 1-5 SEC) comes to town, it will take another night when the assists outnumber the turnovers. When the two teams met in Columbia a couple of weeks ago, Florida recorded 19 assists for its 25 made baskets and turned the ball over only 10 times, which is an acceptable total on the road.

Much is made about Florida’s offense – the Gators lead the SEC and rank #8 nationally in scoring at 80.7 points per game – and the fact that when the 3-pointers start dropping (10.6 per game, #1 nationally), defending the Gators is a nightmare. Against South Carolina in Columbia, Florida bombed away at 50 percent from the 3-point line (12-24) to win the game handily, 79-66. Those numbers are all impressive, but what makes it work is the combination of unselfish passing and taking care of the basketball.

“These last four or five games, we’ve done a better job taking care of the basketball, and we’ll have another challenge Thursday against South Carolina,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said earlier in the week. “They’re a pretty disruptive team that gets their hands on a lot of balls, a lot of deflections, so you have to be good with our passing. We have to be crisp in our offense with them.”

Florida’s offense has been crisp because veteran guards Erving Walker (12.6 points, SEC-leading 5.0 assists per game) and Kenny Boynton (17.2 points, 3.0 assists) have made the extra passes and haven’t turned the ball over. In Florida’s current winning streak, Walker has 25 assists and only six turnovers while Boynton has 14 assists and only four turnovers. The good passing has plenty to do with the Gators shooting 50.8 percent (127-250) in the past five games

Donovan credits the outstanding assist-to-turnover margin with better decision making.

“I think our backcourt guys and our perimeter players and post players have done a better job of making decisions and we've been unselfish,” Donovan said. “I never felt like our unselfishness was ever a problem. I thought that at times our decision making was a problem and I think the last few games we've gotten better. With our assist to turnover ratio, we've gotten better there.”

STARTING LINEUPS

SOUTH CAROLINA (9-11, 1-5 SEC): Anthony Gill (6-8, 235, FR); Malik Cooke (6-6, 215, SR); Damontre Harris (6-9, 226, SO); Bruce Ellington (5-9, 197, SO); Damien Leonard (6-4, 192, FR)

FLORIDA (17-4, 5-1 SEC): Will Yeguete (6-7, 222, SO); Erik Murphy (6-10, 230, JR); Kenny Boynton (6-2, 189, JR); Erving Walker (5-8, 177, SR); Bradley Beal (6-3, 207, FR)

GAME NOTES: Florida is 38-22 all-time against South Carolina, 22-11 under Billy Donovan ... Donovan (377-151 at Florida) is third all-time in wins in SEC history but he’s first in consecutive 20-win seasons (13) and on track to pick up #20 for the 14th straight year within the next two weeks. Overall, Donovan has a 412-171 career record ... Florida has knocked down at least one 3-pointer in 672 consecutive games ... Florida is 237-38 since 1998 in games in which the Gators record at least 15 assists ... Erving Walker needs six points to move past Neal Walk (1,600) into sixth place on the all-time Florida scoring list. Walker is 30 points away from surpassing Dwayne Schintzius into fifth place. Walker is 11 assists away from overtaking Eddie Shannon for second place all-time at UF in assists ... Kenny Boynton is 14 points away from moving past Dametri Hill (1,376) into 21st place at UF and 20 points from taking over #19 from Tony Miller ... Erik Murphy (33-68) would be leading the SEC in 3-point shooting if he had enough attempts. He’s hitting 48.5 percent from the 3-point line ... In the five games since the loss to Tennessee, Bradley Beal is 21-39 from the field overall, 10-20 from the 3-point line and 18-21 from the foul line. For the season, Beal is scoring 14.1 points per game, averaging 5.8 rebounds per game and is leading the team in steals (1.3 per game) and defensive rebounds (102).

SEC STANDINGS

1. Kentucky (22-1, 8-0 SEC); streak: won 14
2. FLORIDA (17-4, 5-1 SEC); streak: won 5
3. Vanderbilt (16-6, 5-2 SEC); streak: lost 1
4. (Tie) Arkansas (16-6, 4-3 SEC); streak: won 1
4. (Tie) Mississippi State (17-5, 4-3 SEC); streak: lost 1
4. (Tie) Ole Miss (14-7, 4-3 SEC); streak: won 1
7. Alabama (14-7, 3-4 SEC); streak: won 1
8. Auburn (13-9, 3-5 SEC); streak: won 1
9. LSU (12-9, 2-5 SEC); streak: lost 3
10. Tennessee (10-12, 2-5 SEC); streak: lost 1
11. South Carolina (9-11, 1-5 SEC); streak: lost 1
12. Georgia (10-11, 1-6 SEC); streak: lost 2

Wednesday’s game
Auburn 59, Georgia 51

Tuesday’s games
Kentucky 69, Tennessee 44
Arkansas 82, Vanderbilt 74

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