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The UF men's basketball team returns home seeking to get back on track against Arkansas.

Saturday February 23, 2013Gators Seek Return to Winning Ways with Arkansas Visiting Sold-Out O'Dome on Saturday

The UF men's basketball team returns home seeking to get back on track against Arkansas.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Take your pick.

Which subplot are you focusing on heading into Florida’s sold-out showdown Saturday with Arkansas at the O’Connell Center?

Is it the maddening way the Gators stumbled down the stretch in Tuesday’s loss at Missouri? Maybe the focus should be on the opponent, the rallying Razorbacks, who have won five of six, including an ambush of then-No. 2 UF earlier this month in Fayetteville that should be simmering for the team and its fans. Then again, there’s the suddenly tightened-up Southeastern Conference standings.

All the above?

Or none of the above.

“We just have to play better,” senior forward Erik Murphy said. “Better than the other night. Better than the last time we played these guys.”

Those words came after a Thursday practice when the Gators (21-4, 11-2) focused on end-of-game situations and shot a ton of free throws, coming off the mishap in Mizzou, but also paid plenty of mind to the Razorbacks (17-9, 8-5) in reviewing the 80-69 beating that marked, by far, UF’s worst performance of the season.

The atmosphere Saturday night figures to be electric at the O’Dome -- the Rowdy Reptiles in top form, no doubt -- with the images of that lopsided loss still fresh in everyone’s mind.

That’s not what’s on Coach Billy Donovan’s mind, though, and he doesn’t want it cluttering up his players’ heads, either.

“They beat us handily. That’s behind us,” Donovan said. “It’s not like, all of a sudden, we win the game and we get the Fayetteville game back. It doesn’t work like that. That game is lost and I’ve never been a big believer in payback. What do you get back?”

Plus, when emphasizing revenge, there’s always a danger of getting too psyched up for a game, so Donovan figures to use his “faceless opponent” approach to try and get his team back to playing the both-ends floor game it strayed from in the Missouri loss; and back to executing like the team that played so unselfishly before its two-game lead in the SEC was cut in half.

“We have a very strong desire to beat them,” junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “We’re ahead in the SEC and we have to keep winning to stay ahead.”

Florida is a perfect 12-0 at home this season. Should the Gators hold serve on their home floor the final three games -- which means a March 2 win against second-place Alabama -- they would win the SEC title by virtue of a tiebreaker.

“That’s what’s important,” Murphy said of the league race. “One of our goals as a team is to win a championship. We can’t control what’s already happened, but we still have control of who wins the conference.”

The best way to maintain that isn’t taking 33 shots from the 3-point line. That’s what the Gators did at Missouri. They took only three less two days earlier in a 35-point win at Auburn.

The difference in those two games, though, was the long ones at Auburn were good, clean looks that came open by executing the offense. Too many of the shots against Missouri were contested and came without much effort to get the ball inside and loosen up the defense.

“I think we tried to play the right way, but I wouldn’t say we played our best,” Wilbekin said. “I think [on offense] we tried to do a little too much on the perimeter and didn’t attack as much as we should have or get the ball in the post.”

When 6-foot-9, 260-pound center Patric Young, who is shooting better than 60 percent from the floor, attempts just seven field goals over two games, that’s a problem.

It was less of an issue at Auburn where the Tigers sloughed down in the post and left shooters wide open. There needed to be more of a determined effort to get Young involved offensively in the Mizzou game.

The Gators definitely need him involved against the Razorbacks -- and power forward Marshawn Powell -- who managed to render Young ineffective the last game by getting him in early first-half foul trouble; right about the time backup post Will Yeguete limped off the floor with a knee injury.

“I thought we got a little stagnant,” Donovan said. “We need to do a better job of getting a piece of the paint than we did.”

Florida’s players know what they need to do. They know how to play at their best on both ends. They got away from it again Tuesday.

When the game was on the line, no less.

“Not good offense and not good defense is not a recipe for success,” Murphy said. “But this is another game. We have to refocus back to the things that made us successful. There’s nothing we can do about the last one, so let’s go play this one.”



Arkansas at No. 5 Florida -- Sold out 

TIP-OFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. (O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.)  

RECORDS: Florida 21-4, 11-2 (SEC); Arkansas 17-9, 8-5 (SEC)

TV: SEC Network (w/Tom Hart and Matt Doherty)  

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

GAME NOTES: Florida notesArkansas notes    

NEED TO KNOW: The Gators look to rebound from Tuesday night’s collapse at Missouri, where UF blew a 13-point lead in the final 11 minutes and now lead the Southeastern Conference by just one game over surging Alabama. ... The Razorbacks, meanwhile, have won five of last six, including three straight. Among those victories is a trio against three of the seven SEC teams with winning league records: Tennessee, Missouri and (of course) Florida, which Arkansas destroyed 80-69 barely two weeks ago at Fayetteville in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. ... The Hogs are traveling on the back end of a Thursday-Saturday ESPN turnaround, having defeated Georgia 62-60 at home Thursday night. ... UF and Arkansas are playing twice in the regular season for the first time, thanks to the expanded SEC. ... Florida is 12-0 at home this season. It’s the second straight year the Gators have won their first 12 games at the O’Dome (the seventh time under Coach Billy Donovan). UF, however, lost two of its last three home dates last season. ... The game will mark the fourth straight sellout for UF and fifth in the last six games. ... Though senior guard Kenny Boynton (13 ppg) leads the Gators in scoring, senior guard Mike Rosario and senior forward Erik Murphy have been the most consistent scorers in SEC play, averaging 14.1 and 12.8 points, respectfully. Murphy, despite a tough 3-for-11 night from 3-point range at Mizzou, still is hitting 47.8 percent of his shots from the arc. That’s actually second-best on the team behind freshman Michael Frazier, who is bombing 3s at a 50.6-percent clip, including 59.1 in SEC play. ... Junior center Patric Young combined for just four points (on only seven FG tries) and six rebounds over the last two games. He plays better in front of the home crowd than on the road. ... Backup forward Casey Prather has made 17 of his last 23 field-goal attempts (74 percent). ... For Arkansas, guard BJ Young (16.5 ppg) ranks third in the SEC in scoring, with 6-7 forward Marshawn Powell (15.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg) not far behind. Both were big in the ridiculous red-hot jumpstart -- 8-for-10 from the 3-point line to open the game, despite 29-percent for the season -- that doomed the Gators in the last meeting. Powell is the reigning SEC Player of the Week after averaging 22 points, 5.5 rebounds, two assists and 1.5 blocks in the Hogs’ wins against Auburn and Missouri. ... The Razorbacks rank second in the SEC in scoring offense at 76 points per game while UF still tops the league in scoring defense (53 ppg), and defensive shooting percentage (37.4).


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