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Friday January 31, 2014No Letting Up: Gators Look to be on Edge Against Struggling A&M

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- As a way to keep the team on notice, Florida's coaches often point to an opponent -- in this case, the Texas A&M Aggies -- and tell the Gators that they just never know.

As in, “You never know what team could be the one that keeps you from winning a championship.”

UF has won 12 straight games after Thursday night’s victory at Mississippi State. The Gators (18-2, 7-0) have rocketed to No. 3 in the national polls and after playing three of the last four games on the road, they'll tip off a three-game home stand Saturday against the Aggies (12-8, 3-4) at the sold-out O’Connell Center, where they’ve won a school-record 26 in a row.

Sounds like a pretty cozy situation, especially against an A&M squad that lost early in the season to Missouri State, got trounced by 20 at home by North Texas, and Wednesday night went to South Carolina and was thrashed by 28.

Those results were itemized for UF coach Billy Donovan after practice Friday. He nodded, but didn't care.

“It’s all in what you choose to look at,” he said. “I choose to look at the Tennessee game.”

The Aggies went into Knoxville, where the Gators have struggled to win the last decade, played some fabulous defense knocked off the Volunteers.

Guess what game got a lot of play in UF’s first-look and personnel film session Friday.

“They definitely have our attention,” senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “They have enough weapons to worry us.”

One of them is guard Jamal Jones, a lanky 6-foot-8 guy with ball skills who posed a match-up problem for the Vols; maybe even caught them off guard. Jones went 8-for-19 from the floor, including 5-for-10 from 3-point range, and hung 23 points in that upset.

The Aggies have another guard, Alex Caruso, who has a flair to his game and leads the SEC at 4.7 assists per outing. He had 11 against Arkansas, another pretty good team A&M beat.

So amid all the hype of Chris Walker’s pending debut Tuesday, a next-up opponent on a losing skid, the one-day hustle of a Thursday-Saturday turnaround, and that built-in security blanket the O’Dome has provided this bunch, it would be human nature-like to make some assumptions about this game.

That’s where the coaches come in.

“We need to be focused,” Donovan said.

If the Gators roll out against the Aggies as they rolled out Thursday in Starkville -- somewhat casually, not on edge, the way Donovan likes -- they could find themselves in a game before they know it.

And you never know who that team could be.

“Maybe this would be the one,” Wilbekin said. “We don’t want to find out the hard way.” 

No. 3 Florida vs Texas A&M  

When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
Records: Florida 18-2 (7-0); Texas A&M 12-8 (3-4) 
TV: SEC TV (w/Joe Davis and Joe Dean)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Bill Koss) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199
Game notes: Florida notes; Texas A&M notes


History: Just the fifth all-time meeting between Florida and Texas A&M, with the Gators holding a 3-1 lead. Two of those wins have come the last two years. UF’s win two years ago was in the Orange Bowl Classic at Sunrise, the season before the Aggies joined the SEC. Florida won 68-48 at College Station last year behind Mike Rosario’s 19 points (4-for-7 from 3-point range) and 18 from Patric Young. The game before that, A&M’s Elston Turner scored 40 in an upset win at Kentucky, but was held to four points on 1-for-10 shooting by the Gators.

Pre-game storylines: UF, the lone unbeaten in league play, has a two-game cushion on second-place Ole Miss and Kentucky in the SEC standings and wants to keep it that way -- and will have three straight home games to pad that lead. The game also will mark Florida’s last before freshman center Chris Walker, the McDonald’s All-American who joined the team in December, officially becomes eligible to take the floor Tuesday night against Missouri.  
The players: Senior forward Casey Prather (17.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg) went 7-for-8 from the floor at Mississippi State and his shooting percentage is back up to .648 for the season. That’s leads the SEC by nearly 8 percentage points. ... Senior forward Will Yeguete (5.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg) did very little on either end of the court Thursday, finishing with 1 point and four rebounds. The Gators will need more activity and intensity from him. Why not start with this game? ...  Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin (12.2 ppg, 3.7 apg) had a season-high 8 assists against the Bulldogs. His backup, freshman Kasey Hill, had three more. Together, they had 11 assists and just three turnovers. The Wilbekin-Hill combo is the lone tandem in the SEC ranked in the top 10 in assist-to-turnoer ratio.

The opponent: After opening the SEC season with three straight wins, including a road upset of Tennessee, the Aggies have dropped four straight (at Mississippi State, at Kentucky, home vs. Vanderbilt and at South Carolina) by a combined 65 points. ... Against conference competition, A&M ranks at the bottom of the league in scoring offense (61.6 ppg), free-throw percentage (60.1) and rebounding (29.9 per game). ... Guard Jamal Jones (11.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg) is the lone Aggie averaging in double-figure scoring. The most productive frontcourt guy is 6-9, 244-pound Kourtney Roberson (9.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg). Guard Alex Caruso (8.9 ppg, 4.7 apg) can do a little bit of everything.

Key numbers:

* 10 - Times sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith has led the Gators in rebounding during his 18 games. As a freshman at Virginia Tech two years ago, he led the Hokies 18 times on the glass.

*12 - Consecutive home SEC wins for the Gators, which is one shy of the school record set from 1967-69 and again from 2006-08.

* 56.1 - Percentage of UF scoring that comes from the four-member senior class of Young, Yeguete, Wilbekin and Prather.

* 113 - Two-point field goals by Prather. That leads the SEC, ahead of LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant (111) and Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson (110).

* 199 - Conference victories (including his time at Marshall in the Southern Conference) for Donovan. His next will be No. 200.

Watch for it: Sophomore off-guard Michael Frazier II is a career 45.7 shooter from 3-point range. In the last three games, he’s 11-for-30 -- down to 36.6 percent -- but still hovering right on his career number (45.2) for the season. But maybe after hitting nearly 49 percent through 16 games, he’s due to heat up again. He likes shooting in the O'Dome.


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