No. 19 Florida, No. 24 South Carolina match defensive wits

Points figure to be at a premium when Florida and South Carolina share the basketball court on Wednesday.

The 19th-ranked Gators are stout at stopping the competition but the 24th-ranked Gamecocks stymie opponents at a far better rate as they enter the SEC showdown in Columbia, S.C.

South Carolina (14-3, 4-0 SEC) leads the SEC and ranks eighth nationally in scoring defense at 59.8 points per game. The Gamecocks rank third nationally in field-goal percentage defense (36.4) and have held five opponents to 50 or fewer points.

“They’re just so sound, they’re just so intense,” Florida coach Mike White said at a press conference. “They’re one of the best defensive programs in college basketball.”

The Gators (14-3, 5-0) allow an average of 67.1 points per outing and enter the contest with seven consecutive wins. Florida is averaging 82.1 points during its winning streak and figures to test the prolific Gamecocks’ defense.

The Gators have a red-hot player in backup senior guard Canyon Barry and a deep roster in which freshman forward Keith Stone — the ninth-leading scorer at 5.3 points per game — averaged 15.5 points and made 6 of 7 3-point attempts over the past two games.

“We can’t say ‘if we stop this guy then we have a chance,'” senior guard Sindarius Thornwell said at a press conference. “You have to guard everybody because with a team like that, anybody can have a good day.”

The aforementioned Barry is averaging 18.8 points over the past four games and recorded season highs of 27 points and five 3-pointers in Saturday’s 80-76 overtime victory against Georgia. Barry ranks second on the team in scoring (12.8) behind sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen (13.9) and is perfectly happy being a reserve.

“I try to play my game,” said Barry, the son of Hall of Famer Rick Barry. “Let the game come to me. Read the defense. See what I can get. Obviously, my teammates have done a great job finding me and I’ve been able to shoot well.”

There have been suggestions that Barry should be in the team’s starting lineup but White isn’t interesting in making any changes during a long winning streak. But he definitely is ecstatic over Barry’s play.

“He’s playing with a different level of confidence, I really believe that,” White said. “I think we can all see that. He’s just shooting the ball better. He’s shooting it better in practice, shooting it better at shootaround and it’s carrying over. I know he’s spent a lot of time in the gym. I know this is really important to him.”

Thornwell and sophomore guard PJ Dozier pace the South Carolina attack. Thornwell leads the Gamecocks in scoring (18.0) and rebounding (7.1) while Dozier is averaging 14.9 points to go with a team-leading 35 steals.

Sophomore forward Chris Silva could be a key player against the Gators after producing a career-high 16 points and matching his career best of 11 rebounds in Saturday’s 67-56 victory over Mississippi. Silva averages 9.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.

South Carolina coach Frank Martin knows his team’s resume will be helped by a win over the Gators. Yet he is also aware it will be a challenge.

“They’re a real good basketball team,” Martin said. “They were real good last year and now they’re a year better, a year older, and Mike and his staff have really put their arms around this team right now.”

The Gamecocks registered a 73-69 overtime victory in their lone meeting with Florida last season.