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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

In a heavyweight bout, the Gators know they don't stand a chance.

That's why, inspired by one of boxing's greats, UF is looking to perform its own version of a rope-a-dope on opponents.

Before last week's game against Mississippi, UF coach Billy Donovan showed his players footage of the famed 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle," which pitted the smaller, quicker Muhammad Ali against George Foreman.

Ali spent the opening few rounds leaning on the ropes and letting the stronger, more physical Foreman pummel him. Foreman soon began to tire and Ali sprung, eventually knocking Foreman out in the eighth round.

This strategy of outlasting one's opponent has been vital to the UF's (16-3, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) success this season. The Gators will look to dig deep again Wednesday when they head to Columbia to take on South Carolina (9-8, 1-2 SEC).

"That's what we do - we're a conditioned team," forward Chandler Parsons said. "He (Donovan) kind of made that the theme. That we need to be the better-conditioned team, and as long as we keep running, keep pressing, keep trapping, keep executing, keep screening and stuff like that, we're going to tire them out throughout the game."

Although Parsons insists the Gators don't need any motivation, he looks forward to the wide variety of guests and antics Donovan has become known for during his tenure at UF.

Past speakers include the WWE's Ric Flair, New Jersey Nets coach Lawrence Frank and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Last season, before a game against Auburn, Donovan dressed up as a cop to show his team that he planned to break up any party the opposing fans were planning on throwing if they beat UF.

"He does anything to motivate us," Parsons said. "We don't really need it, but it's just awesome having it."

Donovan's inspirational tactics seemed to work against Kentucky, when the young Gators outlasted and outworked the Wildcats in an 81-70 overtime victory. Donovan said he's eager to see how his team responds moving forward and fears a post-win hangover may be in store.

"In our league, there's going to be these emotional flows back and forth," Donovan said. "So the biggest thing for our guys is how are they going to handle that? I'm hoping they can handle what happened on Saturday, because it's only one game."

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Donovan also questioned how his young group would handle the national attention and hoopla surrounding the Kentucky game.

"Often times, young people handle adversity better than they handle prosperity," he said. "And generally, young guys have a very difficult time when they or the team performs well. So I'm very concerned and interested in seeing how these guys perform."

UF will take on a South Carolina team recently jolted by news that its coach, Dave Odom, will step down at the end of the season.

The Gamecocks struggled out of the gate, dropping games to UNC-Asheville and Baylor at home.

UF has defeated South Carolina in 12 of the last 14 meetings, including a 63-49 win at home last season to clinch the team's first outright SEC title since 1989.

If the Gators plan to continue their success, they will have to improve greatly from the free-throw line. UF is shooting just 70.5 percent on the year and hit a mere 28 of 40 attempts against Kentucky.

"It's one of the hardest things to practice," Donovan said. "You do your best to simulate pressure situations, you try to simulate fatigue, being tired and I've never been a big believer of 'Hey, let's just go in there and take 100 free throws.' Because they go in there and everyone shoots 85, 90 percent, but when the game goes on it's a little different."

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