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Friday February 1, 2013SEC's Top Two Teams Meet at O'Dome, as Fourth-Ranked Gators Host No. 16 Ole Miss

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Maybe there should be a top-hatted ringleader on hand Saturday night (decked in orange and blue, of course) because the circus atmosphere will be evident from the moment you enter the building. This one has makings of a good sideshow, so look for the Rowdy Reptiles to be atop their game at the sold-out O'Connell Center.

Sort of like the Southeastern Conference-leading team they'll cheer.

And the confidence level of the guy they'll jeer.

Ole Miss junior shooting guard Marshall Henderson figures to be as polarizing a figure to enter the O'Dome in years.

The SEC's leading scorer is a gunner extraordinaire -- with nearly a hundred more 3-point attempts than Kenny Boynton this season -- and his willingness to jack long ones and knack of making them in timely streaks could make for quite a sight when the fourth-ranked Gators (17-2, 7-0) take on the 16th-ranked Rebels (17-3, 6-1) at 7 p.m., with first place in the league on the line.

Make no mistake, Henderson knows only one way and explained his sometimes over-the-top manner like this to OMSpirit.com:

"If I come out dead, I'm highly ineffective," he said.

The kid is very much alive. A live wire, in fact.

The tongue-wagging, chest-bumping Henderson hung 60 points on Tennessee in two games, hit a 35-foot buzz-beating 3-pointer to help beat Vanderbilt in overtime, taunted Auburn's home fans after sinking a pair of game-winning free throws in the final seconds, and Tuesday night even sailed an ice cube at his own fans in a home loss to Kentucky.

"Every player is different," said UF point guard and defensive wiz Scottie Wilbekin, who figures to get very familiar with Henderson over the course of the night. "I don't like to be like that, but every player can have his own style."

Henderson's in-your-face game challenges the composure of players guarding him -- especially if he heats up.

"He's going to be who is and our guys cannot be distracted by that," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "I'm more concerned about what he does for his team, how he is effective and what we have to do to take that away."

The Rebels set screen after screen for Henderson, who will let fly ridiculously challenged shots -- and make some. The key for the Gators will be rebounding the misses because Ole Miss is so outstanding on the offensive glass (No. 3 in the nation after getting 26 vs. Kentucky) it practically views a missed shot as a pass.

"They grab the offensive rebound, now you have to chase that guy around for another possession," explained assistant coach Rashon Burno, charged with the advance scout of the Rebels. "You see it happen over and over. They'll have the ball for 60 or 70 seconds because of how they offensive rebound ... and good luck chasing Marshall Henderson for 60 or 70 seconds."

Over its SEC-long 10-year absence from the NCAA Tournament, Ole Miss has been a physical and athletic team that could bang and run all night. What the Rebels lacked was an outside-shooting presence to open some things up in the paint and space the floor.

They have that now in Henderson, who started his career at Utah, then transferred to Texas Tech (closer to his home of Hurst, Texas) to play for Pat Knight, but left there without ever playing a game after Knight was fired.

Henderson used South Plains Junior College as a way station back to Division I, leading the team to a 32-0 record and junior college national championship while garnering national JC player of the year honors.

He arrived at Ole Miss -- his fourth school in four years -- with his shooting hand cocked and ready to fire. Henderson has made 34.9 percent of his 218 shots from beyond the arc this season. When he gets hot, the Rebels feed off it.

This gets everyone around him excited -- not always in a good way.

And that's when cooler heads have to prevail on the defensive end.

"It's human nature to respond when someone is talking to you," Burno said. "It's part of being a competitor."

Burno was a point guard at DePaul in the late-1990s when Cincinnati was rolling through a very good Conference USA and telling everyone about it.

"Kenyon Martin never stopped talking," Burno said of the 2000 National Player of the Year. "You have to have the mindset not to get caught up in it. And it's hard sometimes."

The Gators are the SEC's best defensive team; one of the best in the country. They've been fabulous at locking into the task at hand and letting each possession stand on its own.

This could be a somewhat different test.

"He's got really good range, does a good job coming off screens and hitting shots from pretty far out," Wilbekin said. "You just have to stay up on him and always be ready to a hand on the ball."

The rest of the stuff can be left to the Rowdies in the stands.

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GATORS GAMEBOX
No. 16 Ole Miss at No. 4 Florida
TIP-OFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. (O'Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.)
RECORDS: Florida 17-2, 7-0 (SEC); Ole Miss 17-3, 6-1 (SEC)
TV: ESPNU (w/Tom Hart and Matt Doherty)
RADIO: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) - / Sirius 134/XM 199
GAME NOTES: Florida notes; Ole Miss notes
NEED TO KNOW: The Gators, winners of nine straight and off to just their third 7-0 start in Southeastern Conference play in school history, are playing a fourth ranked opponent of the season. Ole Miss was unbeaten in league play until Tuesday night's home loss to Kentucky halted the Rebels' nine-game winning streak. ... Florida is coming off its most-lopsided victory of the season -- and that's saying something. UF demolished South Carolina 75-36 Wednesday, thus widening their average margin of victory in SEC play to 28.3 points. Four of the seven conference wins have been by 30 or more. Those 36 points by the Gamecocks were the fewest surrendered by a UF team in an SEC game since beating LSU 38-36 in 1948. ... The Gators have been red-hot from the 3-point line the last two games, making 26 of 52 (50 percent), with senior guard Kenny Boynton going 7-for-14, senior forward Erik Murphy 6-for-8 and freshman guard Michael Frazier 6-for-11. ... Though boasting some terrific offensive numbers, this UF squad is fueled by a defense allowing just 50.4 points per game and 35.9 percent from the floor, both ranking second in the nation. The Gators have held 11 opponents to 20 or fewer points in the first half (South Carolina scored 10) and 11 under 50 for the game. ... Florida is led by Boynton (13.6 ppg), who in addition to his shooting has 21 assists and just four turnovers in SEC play. Murphy tops the league in 3-point percentage (48.7), while junior center Patric Young (11 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is keeping defenses honest with 62.3-percent shooting in the post. ... Backup forward Will Yeguete is averaging 8 rebounds and 2 steals over his last five games. ... The Rebels six straight wins to start SEC play marked their best start since 1938. ... Ole Miss leads the league in scoring at 80 points per game, which should make for an interesting dynamic vs. UF's defense. The Rebels also are one of the best rebounding teams in the country, especially on the offensive end, where they live by second-chance points. ... Junior guard Marshall Henderson (19.3 ppg) is the SEC scoring leader and gets a lot of pub for his streaky ways beyond the 3-point line (a league-high 3.8 per game, 34.9 percent), but 6-9 Reginald Buckner (9.7 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-7 Murphy Holloway (14.6 ppg, league-high 10.3 rpg) are incredibly active, athletic and productive at the forward positions. ... The Rebels are 5-1 on the road this season and besides losing to Kentucky also dropped a road game at Middle Tennessee State and home date against Indiana State.

 

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