Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
The Rebels overcame a nine-point deficit in Saturday's second game to defeat Vanderbilt, 64-52. The Gators are making their ninth all-time appearance in the championship game; Ole Miss is making its fifth trip and first in 12 years.
The rematch with Ole Miss -- Florida defeated the Rebels 78-64 at home on Feb. 2 -- means trying to slow down Rebels guard Marshall Henderson, the SEC's leading scorer.
Marshall scored 23 points in Saturday's win over Vanderbilt and 27 on Friday night to help the Rebels upset Missouri. Henderson did it in his unique and animated fashion, leaping onto a scorer's table after Friday night's win and taunting fans before and afterward.
A few minutes after he walked off the court Saturday, Henderson was asked if he recalled the first matchup with the Gators.
"We played a pretty good game down there and they still kicked our butts,'' Henderson said.
Henderson scored 25 points in the loss, hitting 7 of 11 3-pointers.
The Gators and Rebels last met in the SEC Tournament in 2007, an 80-59 Florida victory.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy understands the challenge ahead if the Rebels are going to win their first SEC Tournament title since 1981 by knocking off the Gators.
"Florida went through a stretch where they lost four out of their last 10 and had some tough games on the road,'' Kennedy said. "Now they're back to full strength. When they make shots as they did in Game 1, when Erik Murphy is really dialed in and making shots, they're scary."
YOUR TURN, “KB”
About 24 hours earlier, senior forward Erik Murphy was the man for the Gators. He posted career highs of 27 points and 12 rebounds in an 80-58 stomping of LSU in the tournament quarterfinals, so you better believe Alabama made Murphy a marked man Saturday.
That’s why the 6-foot-10 “stretch 4” got few really good, open looks against the Tide. Murphy was just 2-for-7 from the floor for the game and missed three of his 3s.
But this group of players has shared the spotlight all season, which is a hallmark of Donovan’s best teams. That’s why everyone in the UF locker room was happy to see Kenny Boynton come up big when it mattered most.
“It’s great that we can have someone different step up every game,” junior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “If we can do that -- and have everyone else complement and add whatever they can -- that’s when we’re at our best.”
Another good thing that came out of this game was Florida's response to falling behind in the second half. Not just the rally from 10 points down, but the way the Gators closed the door on the Tide and avoided a late-game collapse like at Arizona, Missouri and Kentucky.
“We’ve been working on it in practice,” Murphy said. “We just buckled up, grinded it out, got stops, executed our offense and pretty much made it happen.”
That’s how you need to win games in March.
“There won’t be any easy games,” Wilbekin added. “With the tough games we’ve lost this year, we know what it’s like to come in the locker room after one of those and we all had an internal will that we did not want to lose this game. We’ve had that experience before and don’t want to go through it again.”
HALFTIME COMEBACK NO. 2
The Gators won for the second time in five tries when trailing at halftime. UF was behind 28-25 at the break, but held the Tide to just eight field goals and 23 second-half points.
The only other time Florida won when trailing at the half was at Georgia, where the Bulldogs led 27-24 and the Gators stormed back to win 64-47.
The losses: against Kansas State at Kansas City (down 33-23, lost 67-61), at Arkansas (down 43-26, lost 80-69) and at Tennessee (down 35-32, lost 64-58).
"We'll just do what we do. We match every game. We have different things that maybe we can do to affect them. We'll have to zone them some."
QUOTE OF NOTE I
"I don't deal in that. They've got a tough enough job.'' -- Alabama coach Anthony Grant when asked to state his case for an NCAA Tournament berth to the committee
QUOTE OF NOTE II
"I think they ate a whole box of Lucky Charms, because they were knocking in some lucky ones. The ball wasn't dropping for us, but we kept playing tough defense on them." -- Gators center Patric Young on Alabama's shooting in first half
NOTHING IS FREE
Will Yeguete started Florida's winning rally on Saturday with a pair of free throws that led off a 15-0 run. In Florida's comeback win over Alabama on March 2 in Gainesville, it was Casey Prather who hit a pair of free throws to start Florida's comeback from an eight-point deficit.
They may not get the crowd excited like a breakaway dunk, but those free throws matter, especially this time of year.
"Before we left Gainesville, we did a lot of individual free-throw shooting,'' Prather said. "You've got to convert at the line. We missed a couple but we made the ones when it counted most."
The events of the conference tournament weekend have put the Gators back in contention for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA bracket.
Nothing is guaranteed, obviously, but should Florida -- which started Saturday ranked No. 7 in RPI -- add the SEC Tournament title to its regular-season title, that would make a tough argument for second-line status for the Selection Committee. How could it not reward such wire-to-wire league dominance? Especially coupled with lopsided non-conference wins over Wisconsin (playing for the Big Ten title Sunday) and Marquette (regular-season Big East co-champ), and no really bad losses.
Even though Duke was upset in the ACC quarterfinals and Indiana fell in the Big 10 semifinals, both are probably safe for No. 1 seeds (along with Gonzaga and Louisville). But with UF sitting there at No. 7 in the RPI and No. 9 Michigan State (lost Saturday) and No. 10 Georgetown (lost Friday) looming as direction competition for the 2-seed line, the Gators could really help themselves by beating Ole Miss.
NOTES AND NUGGETS
Kennedy said guard Jarvis Summers, who missed Saturday's game after suffering a concussion in Friday's win, is day-to-day. "There will be a lot of testing between now and noon [Sunday] to see whether he's available." ... Florida committed a season-low four turnovers ... Gators coach Billy Donovan improved to 6-0 against Grant, his former UF assistant ... Florida improved to 23-0 when holding opponents to 60 points or less.
--GatorZone.com senior writer Chris Harry contributed to this report.