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Intensity level key vs. USC

Basketball coach Billy Donovan has purposefully exposed his young team to a variety of experiences this season. Tonight, he'll find out if the Gators are gaining any.

Experience, that is.

In its first road game since last week's 71-69 loss at DePaul, No. 12 Florida plays at South Carolina at 7:30 in Frank McGuire Arena. This time, the Gators better be on time.

"I think that when a ranked team goes on the road, early in the game, the intensity level is very difficult for the visiting team to match," Donovan said. "You're not trying to match that early intensity, but to sustain your own intensity because the other team's level is going to drop off."

The Gators came out flat at DePaul and faced their largest halftime deficit of the season, 46-32. That they ultimately rallied from a 21-point second-half deficit to lead 67-66 in the final three minutes is admirable, but not the point.

"It's important to go in and play with a lot of emotion and a lot of intensity to start," Donovan said, "and then sustain it for a long period of time."

Against DePaul, the Gators were lulled by a recent slump in which the Blue Demons lost three of four games against questionable competition. The circumstances are similar with South Carolina, which was miserable last season at 8-21.

But USC is much improved. In the past two weeks, the Gamecocks lost 77-74 in overtime to then-No. 7 Syracuse, 65-61 at then-No. 4 Auburn, and 61-60 to then-No. 20 Vanderbilt. No doubt, they'll be waiting for the Gators. Will UF be ready?

CLOSER OUT: Junior pitcher Keith Brice will have season-ending surgery Monday to repair a torn ligament in his throwing elbow. Brice, a right-handed closer, was injured in the fall while rehabilitating from off-season surgery to remove bone chips in the elbow. He will be out 6-9 months.

Freshman right-hander Joey Simon of Chamberlain High in Tampa was the closer for UF's three-game sweep of Hawaii, picking up a save in his only appearance. In two innings, Simon allowed one hit, walked one and struck out two for a 0.00 ERA.

The Gators, ranked No. 18 by Baseball America, play at No. 5 Miami Saturday and Sunday. Saturday's game will be shown live on SportsChannel at 7 p.m.

GYMNASTICS: Senior Chrissy Van Fleet won her second consecutive all-around title with a season-best score of 39.375 at the Subway Challenge Friday in Gainesville. Penn State's Gemma Cuff was second with 39.30 points. Van Fleet also won the uneven bars with a 9.95.

Florida, No. 19 in the GymInfo rankings, finished second to No. 8 Penn State in the team competition, 194.925 to 194.05. The Gators won the floor exercise, but made costly mistakes on the balance beam and uneven bars.

"This team knows it's good on floor," coach Judi Markell said. "The sad thing is we are that good on balance beam also, but we aren't showing it right now. We can't have those breaks and beat the best teams in the nation. We are not consistent on bars and beam, and that has got to be fixed."

OFF AND RUNNING: The men's and women's track teams, both ranked in the top 10 by Trackwire 25, will host the Gator Invitational at 10 a.m. Sunday at the O'Connell Center. Among the nine-team men's field are No. 3 UF, No. 4 Clemson, No. 6 Auburn, No. 9 Arizona State, No. 11 LSU and No. 17 Baylor. Among the 13-team women's field are No. 1 LSU, No. 6 Auburn, No. 10 UF and No. 24 FSU.

SIGNING DAY: Today is the first day athletes can sign binding letters of intent to play Division I football. UF will update its list of signees on Gatorzone.com at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

_ Contact Gators beat writer Joanne Korth at 800-333-7505, ext. 7306, or by e-mail at Korthsptimes.com.

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