The next chapter of the Florida-Georgia basketball rivalry will be written tonight when the #7 Gators take on the Bulldogs in what is sure to be the unfriendly confines of the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
This matchup is bound to be a heated one for a few reasons. One is that, for the first time since 1943-44, the two teams will meet only once this season. The Gators and Dawgs have a single chance to let out the pure, unbridled hatred for one another, at least until next year. Also, they are both undefeated in the SEC (along with #13 Kentucky and Texas A&M). Whoever wins this game will put the first blemish on the opponent’s conference record.
Along with staying perfect in SEC play, Florida’s (13-2, 2-0 SEC) goal tonight is to finally break the school record for consecutive home wins with a 25th victory. The Gators have been on quite a roll lately, winning seven games in a row and grinding out an impressive overtime W at Arkansas on Saturday. What was most notable about that accomplishment was that Florida played without injured leading scorer Casey Prather, and usual starters Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin began the game on the bench due to bumps and bruises of their own.
Dorian Finney-Smith will have to fill in for Prather again tonight, who is still out with a right knee bone bruise. Finney-Smith served as a great replacement against Arkansas, leading the Gators with a career-high 22 points.
Despite the fact that they were outscored by a combined 50 points in two losses to Florida last season, Georgia (8-6, 2-0 SEC) has looked a little bit different this year. At this point in the 2012-2013 season, the Bulldogs sported a 6-9 overall record and were winless in two conference games played. However, they are currently riding a two-game winning streak, having topped then-#21 Missouri 70-64 in overtime in Columbia and Alabama 66-58 at home. In terms of stats, the Dawgs are slightly better than the Gators in field goal percentage, shooting 46.8% compared to UF’s 46.4%.
Georgia will likely be playing with a lot of heart tonight, not just because of the rivalry, but also because of head coach Mark Fox, whose father died on Jan. 4 while Fox was on a plane to visit him. The day after the memorial service, Fox coached the Bulldogs to an upset win over Missouri and then broke down after the game. Combined with the leadership of sophomore guard and SEC Player of the Week Charles Mann, that could potentially push Georgia to another upset win.
Florida will likely start Finney-Smith, Young, Wilbekin, senior forward Will Yeguete and sophomore guard Michael Frazier II. Georgia’s probable starters include Mann, redshirt junior forward Marcus Thornton, senior forward Donte’ Williams, sophomore forward Brandon Morris and sophomore guard Kenny Gaines.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. Catch the game on TV through ESPNU, on the radio through Gator IMG Sports Network (Sirius 85, XM 85) and Country 103.7 The Gator or streaming through WatchESPN (if your cable provider allows it).