GAINESVILLE -- No. 10 Florida throttled South Carolina 74-58 Wednesday night in its Southeastern Conference opener, but UF's record-trying 24th straight victory at home was overshadowed by injury as senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin exited the game late with a right ankle sprain.
Wilbekin, recently challenged by coach Billy Donovan to be more efficient offensively, scored a game-high 17 points (on 3-of-6 shooting from 3-point range) with three assists and zero turnovers before landing awkwardly on a drive with 2:39 remaining in the second half. Florida's senior was immediately assisted to the locker room by head trainer Duke Werner, souring a bounce-back performance by the point guard.
Wilbekin, visibly in pain, rolled the same ankle he hurt late in UF's buzzer-beating loss to Connecticut on Dec. 2.
After the game, Donovan called the senior "questionable" for Saturday's tilt at Arkansas (1 p.m., ESPN2) and explained that he had a substitution for Wilbekin waiting at the scorer's table as the injury occurred.
The Gators (12-2), winners of five straight over the Gamecocks (7-7), tied their homecourt winning streak set during UF's first title run in 2006-07. Florida's last lost in the O'Dome was in 2012 to eventual national champion Kentucky to close out the regular season.
UF's performance Wednesday night was hardly dazzling, but thanks to an early suffocating defense (forcing 15 first half turnovers) and a transition attack (10 fast break points), the Gators jumped out to a 14-1 lead in the game's first six minutes. USC failed to score a field goal until the 10:32 mark in the first half, but the Gators -- a Jekyll and Hyde team all year -- had a lengthy lull of mediocre play on both ends of the court, allowing a undermanned USC team to hang around until early in the second half.
Following Gamecocks guard Desmond Ringer's and-one layup to cut USC's deficit to eight (43-35), Florida regrouped with a pair of binge scoring runs -- 9-2, 12-0 -- to turn the two teams' first league game into a rout.
Senior center Patric Young, who chipped in 13 points (6-for-7 from the floor) and seven rebounds, acknowledged after the game the Gators currently "lack a killer instinct" and relax too often against teams they're "better than on paper."
Donovan, admittedly "irritated" by the reoccurring "theme" of UF's tendency to allow other teams back into games, said, "We have a very, very hard time sustaining intensity."
At least on Wednesday night -- against an SEC bottom-feeder -- Florida's up-and-down effort was enough.
THIS & THAT
UF led by as many as 23 points in the second half. … Casey Prather submitted another ho-hum performance, scoring 13 points without missing a shot from the field (5-of-5). … USC opened the second half shooting 7-of-10 after making just six field goals the entire first half. … UF was out-rebounded (28-25) for just the fourth time all season. … The Gators shot a paltry 26 percent from the 3-point line (5-of-19), as sophomore sharpshooter Michael Frazier struggled to find his touch (just 2-for-7 from downtown) all night.
Donovan talks UF's win and Wilbekin's injury
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