GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Florida center Pat Young knows something is coming.
It could be a speech. It could be a video session. It could be a grueling practice.
Following an eight-game winning streak, a dominant start in the SEC and the program’s highest ranking in nearly six years, Young figures coach Billy Donovan will do something to get his team’s attention.
“I know coach Donovan’s going to humble us,” Young said Monday. “He’s going to find something to make sure we don’t get too lifted up on this attention that we’re getting now. We want to be great for being recognized as a good team, but we want to make it all the way. We want to win it all. Then we’ll finally be satisfied with what we’ve got.”
Florida moved up four spots to No. 4 in the latest AP poll, jumped to sixth in the latest Ratings Percentage Index and has been projected a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
How the Gators (16-2, 6-0) handle their recent success and raised expectations could be key to avoiding the kind of letdowns that have plagued so many other top-five teams this season.
“Our guys have got to understand that the chatter and stuff around them is on the peripheral,” Donovan said. “It’s got nothing to do with us preparing to get ready for the next game. I think that any good team or any team that moves up in the rankings, you have to deal with that.”
Florida is home for four of its next five games. The Gators host South Carolina (12-7, 2-4) on Wednesday night, three days before 16th-ranked Mississippi comes to town.
The No. 4 ranking is Florida’s highest since the 2006-07 season, when the Gators won the second of back-to-back national championships. Florida spent much of that season atop the polls, but was ranked third heading into the NCAA tournament.
“It’s good for the school, but honestly as a team, we’re not worried about it,” guard Kenny Boynton said. “Whether we’re ranked or not, we’re going to get a team’s best game. So we’ve just got to go out there and play.”
Defense has been the catalyst of Florida’s rise.
Donovan’s squad has held 10 opponents under 50 points, including Saturday’s 82-47 rout of Mississippi State, and 14 under 60. Florida ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 51.2 points a game.
The Gators have been at their best in league play, winning by an average of 26.5 points. The team has shot at least 44 percent in those six games, including at least 35 percent from 3-point range, and allowed no opponent to shoot better than 41 percent from the field.
Now, though, the Gators will try to continue their streak with a few extra distractions that come with more attention.
“We’ve got to drive our car with two hands on the wheel inside the lane and looking at what’s in front,” Donovan said. “And what’s in front of us right now is South Carolina. So that’s the challenge that they need to understand.”
The Gamecocks avoided a third straight loss and won for the second time in six games by beating Arkansas 75-54 at home Saturday. They trailed 15-3 less than five minutes in, but Brian Richardson helped South Carolina rally to erase that deficit.
The junior guard tied his career high with 20 points, including 11 in a 40-11 run to close the first half. The Gamecocks equaled their number of conference victories from a season ago and posted their first win of at least 20 points since defeating Mississippi State 83-61 on Feb. 11, 2006.
“The run was pretty good. It was fun,” Richardson said. “We played hard and that’s how we need to play all the time, play with a lot of passion, a lot of energy and the results will take care of itself.”
South Carolina has mostly come out on the losing end when facing Florida. The Gamecocks have dropped three straight and 23 of 29 in the series since the start of the 1998-99 season, and they’ve lost their last 11 matchups with ranked teams.