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Monday February 18, 2013Gators Head to Missouri Fully Anticipating a Different Opponent in Rematch

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- In the first Southeastern Conference game of their storied basketball history, the Missouri Tigers went to Ole Miss and got popped by the Rebels but good, losing 64-49. 


Those 49 points remain the fewest the Tigers have scored this season. 


In the rematch, Missouri vaporized Mississippi 98-79. The Tigers had 52 at halftime. 


“They’re a team that been extremely explosive offensively at home,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. 


The Gators (21-3, 11-1), with three straight wins and up to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll, will have the task of dousing the combustible Tigers (18-7, 7-5), who are unbeaten in their last 15 games at Mizzou Arena and -- bank on it -- will look nothing like the team that came to Gainesville exactly one month ago and suffered its worse loss in five years in a 83-52 clubbing at the O’Connell Center. 


Since winning by 31 at Auburn Saturday, Donovan and his staff have to drilled into their players heads the difficult scenario that awaits them in the program’s first visit to Columbia by showing them examples -- in the form of statistics and video -- that illustrate the Jekyll-Hyde nature of the Tigers home versus away. 


“We know it’s going to be crazy and hostile,” senior guard Mike Rosario said. “We need to go in there with the mindset we had going to Auburn.” 


Times 10. 


Where as the Auburn Tigers are fighting to stay out of the SEC cellar, the Missouri Tigers are clawing for their very postseason lives, having lost a heartbreaker Saturday at Arkansas that pushed them four games behind the Gators in the conference standings. 


And now they’re back in their friendly and ferocious confines, and no doubt looking to avenge the last meeting.


“We just know they’re going to play their hearts out,” junior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “They’re going to come harder than they came [before].”


Better, too. 


Missouri is averaging 84 points per game at home in six SEC games, compared to 64 on the road -- a 20-point difference. Point guard Phil Pressey, the preseason SEC Player of the Year, has a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio at home and a negative one on the road. Two of the Tigers top front-court players, center Alex Oriakhi and reserve forward Earnest Ross, are averaging nearly 11 more points at home than away. 


“Most teams do play better at home,” Tigers coach Frank Haith said. “And we’ve been more aggressive at home with our defense and rebounding.”


Florida has won seven of its 10 road games this season, but Donovan was pretty blunt in telling the Gators they have yet to beat an NCAA Tournament-quality team on the road. 


There was the late blown lead in the desert at Arizona, a listless showing against Kansas State in Kansas City and a loss at Arkansas two weeks ago when the Gators were never in the game. 


So now what? 


“Our guys have played in difficult situations,” Donovan said. “I don’t think there's anything that we're going to talk about environment-wise that's going to take our guys off guard.” 


No, the focus will be basketball-wise. 


This time, Missouri will have 6-foot-8 forward Laurence Bowers, a stretch-the-floor post player who missed the last meeting with a knee injury. His ability to pop off screens and hit 3-point shots makes Pressey more dangerous in space. Bowers is also one of four Tigers who grab at least five rebounds per game. Missouri leads the SEC in rebounding margin and offensive rebounding. 


So defensively, UF will be challenged both inside and out. Offensively, the Gators will need to keep to the unselfishness, share-the-ball ways that have led to so many open shots. Transition defense after misses or turnovers (better not be many of those) will be paramount, as will the Gators‘ ability to deal with Missouri’s inevitable runs and the pandemonium in the building. 


Florida did none of the above at Arkansas and was down by 23 nine minutes into the game. 


The wins at LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, Mississippi State and Auburn were nice. All road wins are. 


But none of those teams are above .500 in SEC play and all are longshots for the NCAA Tournament. 


Missouri has everything to play for and a perfect record at home. 


“We’ll have to come in with the mindset that we’re going to get their best shot,” freshman guard Michael Frazier said. “We have to absorb it, play hard, play the right way, play together.”


Maybe that will be enough. 




No. 5 Florida at Missouri    

Tip-off: Tuesday, 9 p.m. (Mizzou Arena, Columbia, Mo.)  

Records: Florida 21-3, 11-1 (SEC); Missouri 18-7, 7-5 (SEC)

TV: ESPN (w/Brad Nessler, Jimmy Dykes and Shannon Spake)  

Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199

Game notes: Florida notes; Missouri notes    

Need to know: The Gators, thanks to three straight wins, are back in the Top 5 for the second time this season and a have two-game lead atop the Southeastern Conference standings on second-place Alabama. .. Now comes one of their toughest road tests to date. The Tigers fell out of the Top 25 this week, but they are one of the toughest teams in the country when playing at home -- 14-0 this season -- and are likely still steaming following Saturday’s missed opportunity in a loss at Arkansas. ... The game is a rematch of the Jan. 19 showdown in Gainesville, where Florida handed Missouri a 83-52 loss that marked the Tigers worst defeat in nearly five years. ... UF is coming off one of its best all-around performances of the season Saturday at Auburn, where the Gators shot 57 percent, made a season-high 15 from 3-point range (on 30 attempts) and defended at a 35.2 percent clip. ... Florida has held all but six opponents under 60 points this season (including 10 games in SEC play) and has won its games by an average margin of 21.6 points (22.8 in the conference). ... UF’s leading scorer remains senior guard Kenny Boynton (13 ppg, 3.4 apg), but right on his heels are two classmates, guard Mike Rosario (12.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg) and forward Erik Murphy (12.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg), both of whom are playing some of the best basketball of their careers. Rosario, who had 22 at Auburn (18 in the first half), is averaging a team-best 14.1 points and shooting nearly 48 percent in conference play. Murphy leads the SEC in 3-point shooting at 50 percent (52 of 104). ... Speaking of 3s, Murphy and freshman backup guard Michael Frazier (50.6) are two of the nation’s four players making 50 percent or better and averaging more than 1.5 shots from beyond the arc this season. ... Look for much better play from  the Tigers this time around, what with being at home and the unlikelihood of senior point guard Phil Pressey (12 ppg, 6.8 apg) repeating the bad night he had at the O’Connell Center when UF guard Scottie Wilbekin held him to just two points and frustrated Pressey into a career-worst 10 turnovers. ... Mizzou also has its full frontcourt, with the 6-8, 227-pound Laurence Bowers (14.1 ppg, 6 rpg) in place after missing a series of games, including the trip to Gainesville, with a knee injury. Bowers is a force inside and leads the league in field-goal percentage at 54.3 percent, but he’s also a 3-point threat as well (44.1 percent). ... The Tigers have six players averaging in double-figures and lead the SEC in rebounding (42.2 pg), rebounding margin (plus-10.2) and offensive rebounds (14.2 pg). ... 6-9, 255-pound senior C Alex Oriakhi, who started for Connecticut’s 2010 NCAA championship team, is the SEC’s No. 3 rebounder at 8.8 per game. 



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