After cruising to a much easier than anticipated road win over conference newcomer Texas A&M Thursday evening, the Florida Gators face a short turnaround heading home to face the other conference newbie the Missouri Tigers on Saturday afternoon in the O’Connell Center. The #10 Gators (13-2, 3-0) will be seeking to give head coach Billy Donovan his 400th career victory at Florida while getting a leg up on one of the teams expected to challenge the Gators for conference supremacy this season.
Asked about what getting to 400 wins might mean to him, head coach Billy Donovan responded,
“I really don’t necessarily focus on that or think about that kind of stuff. I always think that if you’re at a place for a long period of time it’s generally because you’ve been fortunate enough to coach good players. I’ve always felt that way from the time I got here with Jason Williams to these guys now.”
“You look at the seventeen years there’s been a lot of really good players that have come through here and I think it’s evident by the amount of guys that are playing in the NBA and how well those guys are doing.”
“So that number to me is not necessarily my number but the number of the guys that have been here that I’ve had the chance to coach.”
The #17 Tigers come in at 13-3 overall and 2-1 in the SEC after defeating the Georgia Bulldogs Thursday evening 79-62. They have been without their leading scorer Laurence Bowers that last couple of games due to a knee injury suffered against Alabama. He was expected back for the match-up with Florida but the latest word is that he will not play today.
Losing Bowers, a 6-8 forward, who’s averaging 16.8 points per game (ppg) is a huge blow for the Tigers. He is, however, one of five Tiger players who average in double figures. 6-5 guard Jabari Brown, a transfer from Oregon, is the Tigers second leading scorer at 13.9 ppg and has led the team the last two games in Bowers absence while guard Phil Pressey isn’t far behind averaging 12.9 ppg. With so many scorers in the lineup, the Tigers may pose the sternest test yet for a staunch Gator defense that comes in third in the nation in scoring defense averaging only 52 ppg given up. They very well may have their hands full with such a short turnaround which makes it difficult to prepare for everything the Tigers do.
“I think it’s a great challenge for our team against a team that is clearly a terrific and explosive offensive team with a lot of different weapons,” Donovan said on Friday. “I don’t think you’ll be able to cover everything and get through everything in the amount of time but certainly there’s going to be key things that they do that we’re going to have to address and try to handle as best we can.”
With Bowers out, Pressey becomes even more important for the Tigers offensive fortunes. He’s a good shooter but it’s his ability to break down a defense, find the open shooter, and dish the ball that makes him and the Tigers offense so difficult to defend.
“He’s terrific at what he does,” Donovan said. “I’ve always said a sign of a great player is a player that can make other people around him better. Certainly he does that as well as anybody in the country.”
“He’s got great vision, he understands rotations, he understands how the floor is moving. And then he finds people. He gives a lot of their players opportunities to take a lot of open shots.”
“The thing that is really impressive with him is, you look at their average number of assists in the SEC, I think that they average 14 assists per game which is pretty good, he gets 8 of the 14 assists. So it’s not necessarily even his scoring, it’s the other things he does because he’s got good scoring around him.”
The Gators are coming off a relatively easy 68-47 victory over Texas A&M, where the Gators pulled away midway through the first half and were never really challenged. They come in still banged up with reserve Casey Prather sidlined for 10-14 days, Will Yeguete suffering from tendinitis in his knee, Erik Murphy dealing with broken ribs, Mike Rosario with a sore ankle, and Scottie Wilbekin with a broken finger. Despite all the injuries, the Gators haven’t missed a beat all season as they continue to dominate almost every team they’ve played averaging an amazing 21 ppg scoring margin.
Missouri comes in as the top rebounding team in the conference averaging over 43 rebounds per game. They are the number four team in the nation in rebounding margin at plus 10.9 rpg. The Gators aren’t far behind in rebounding margin, however, averaging plus 8.8 rpg which is good for 14th in the country. Despite Donovan’s concern before the season for where the rebounding would come from this year, they have been surprisingly good on the boards. Patric Young and Erik Murphy have answered Donovan’s call to become more physical in the paint while Will Yeguete has been very active on the boards as well. The guards Scottie Wilbekin, Kenny Boynton, and Mike Rosario have also made a concerted effort to help out on the boards.
They will likely have their hands full in this one as the Tigers motion offense tends to get defenders out of position to box out and leads to a lot of second chance opportunities for the Tigers. They have good length and athleticism in the post as well.
“Their a big, strong physical team,” said Donovan. “They rebound the ball very, very well. I think a lot times teams that are good rebounding teams are teams that get you in a lot of rotation. And Pressey really has the ability to put you in rotation.”
Against the Aggies, senior guard Mike Rosario was a game time decision to play with his sore ankle and he came out and scored 11 of the first 13 Gator points leading them in scoring with 19 for the game. Patric Young played the way Donovan envisioned when he signed him finishing with 18 points and 8 rebounds with 3 steals. Power forward Erik Murphy scored 16 with 7 rebounds and Scottie Wilbekin was his usual active self, repeatedly forcing turnovers, grabbing rebounds, and dropping shots and dishing assists.
The two teams are very similar in their offensive balance and ability to rebound and play tough, active defense. This may be the best match-up of the season to date for the Gators and may be a preview of a potential SEC tournament final match-up. The Gators will certainly be tested in multiple in more ways than they have been in any single game this season.
A top twenty match-up, a packed house, the Rowdy Reptiles, ESPN, and a mid afternoon start should have the O’Dome rockin’ and give the Gators a strong homecourt advantage.
Tip off for today’s game is 2 pm eastern and will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN3.com.