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Gators coach Billy Donovan will try and direct the Gators to their 19th consecutive win this afternoon.

Saturday February 22, 2014Bombs Away: Henderson, Rebels Will Let 'Em Fly From 3-point Line

Gators coach Billy Donovan will try and direct the Gators to their 19th consecutive win this afternoon.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

OXFORD, Miss. -- Given how Auburn was able to work Florida’s defense for 3-point shots -- and bury a bunch of them -- the Gators figure to be on high alert heading into their high-noon Saturday appointment with Ole Miss at Tad Smith Coliseum.

Auburn went into the UF game Wednesday night averaging 5.7 made treys per game. The Tigers made 10 and the Gators had to rally in the final minutes to claim their school-record 18th straight win.

Mississippi, though, averages more than eight made 3s per game, with Rebels gunslinger Marshall Henderson capable of making 10 by himself. Henderson, in fact, made 10 in a game earlier this season, on his way to a career-high 39 points in an overtime home loss to Oregon. He attempted 23 in that one. The Rebels jacked 35 as a team that night.

“Certainly, Henderson is a unique player in terms of his ability to shoot and score, and his range,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “But I think they’ve got some other really good players too."

Two Rebels in addition to Henderson, point guard Jarvis Summers and sixth-man forward Anthony Perez, are better than 37 percent from the distance line. They’re not as likely to take them, but they’re certainly capable.

So get ready, No. 2 UF (24-2, 13-0), for an Ole Miss (16-10, 7-6) squad with a green light to make it rain 3s. Unlike past Rebels teams, this one probably doesn’t have the low-post personnel to bang away at the Gators.

So they’ll bomb away, instead.

Considering two of UF’s last four opponents (Auburn and Alabama) have knocked down better than 50 percent from the 3-point line, and four of the previous five have hit at least 38 percent, what’s the first place you would look as a coach whose team shoots 3s better than it does anything else on offense?

Rebels coach Andy Kennedy probably spent the last couple days reviewing UF’s perimeter defense, likely giving extra attention to what Auburn was able to do. In two games against Florida -- and the league’s stingiest defense -- the Tigers went 17-for-32 from the 3-point line (53.1 percent).

The Gators won’t overanalyze this.

“Auburn just made a bunch of shots,” senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said.

But UF coach Billy Donovan looked at how the Tigers got those shots. The way he reviews a defensive performance is by asking three questions:

1. Are we playing hard enough?
2. Are we executing properly?
3. Do we make a change?

Broken down, Auburn hit five 3s in man coverage, two each against 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones, and another versus the press. Some were good plays, others were breakdowns in positioning or recovery on defense.

The UF defense wants to deny penetration to the center of the floor that leads to pass-outs for open 3s.

“On a couple possessions, we did our job and they just executed a better play and beat our defense. That happens,” said Donovan, whose team has dropped to 11th in the league in defending the 3-point line (.345). “There were some where our execution and effort weren’t good enough. And then the emotional part comes in. The fatigue. When you’re tired emotionally and physically, sometimes you’re late in responding and attacking and you don’t do your job very well.”

Two hard-fought, draining road wins the week before -- at Tennessee, where the Gators had won once in eight trips; and at Kentucky, where they’d won just eight times in program history -- sapped some of the punch from a team that probably felt a little cozy coming home to face an Auburn club one game out of the SEC cellar.

As Donovan might say, the Gators were “fighting human nature.” That was in addition to the fired up Tigers.

Get used to it.

From here on out, Florida will get everybody's best shot.

So now comes the challenge of bouncing back and being energized for the task of not only playing a road game at 11 a.m. (local time), but dealing with the antics of Henderson, who mocked UF with Gator chomps and bench fly-bys when he scored 18 second-half points in the Rebels’ upset win in the SEC Tournament championship game last March.

Wilbekin declined to bite when asked about Henderson.

“If I’m guarding him, I’m going to try and keep him from scoring,” he said.

Senior center Patric Young was asked about Henderson’s histrionics.

“He doesn’t really talk too much [during the game]. It’s more when he does something he just really wants everyone to know,” said Young, adding it won’t be hard for this veteran team to look beyond the show Henderson is putting on. “We’re focused on ourselves between the lines. And our team. We’re staying on the path to try and become great.”

For the Gators, it’s a road that starts with stopping the other guy and, on the road, weathering the storm.

Let it rain.

No. 2 Florida at Ole Miss 

When: Saturday, noon 
Where: Tad Smith Coliseum, Oxford, Miss.
Records: Florida 24-2 (13-0); Ole Miss (16-10, 7-6)
TV: CBS (w/Ian Eagle and Doug Gottlieb)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Bill Koss) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199
Game notes: Florida notes; Ole Miss notes


History: UF and Ole Miss meet for the first time this season. The Gators lead the all-time series 61-43, but the Rebels won the last meeting in stinging fashion, as Florida blew a 12-point halftime lead and fell 66-63 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament title game last March 17 in Nashville, Tenn. Guard Marshall Henderson scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half, while power forward Murphy Holloway posted 23 points and 10 rebounds. UF, led by 18 points and nine rebounds from Mike Rosario, had its chances late in the game, but an ugly 8-for-17 effort from the free-throw line helped doom the Gators. Florida is 14-7 vs. Ole Miss under Coach Billy Donovan.

Pre-game storyline: It would be easy to point to some revenge motives on the part of the Gators, especially with Henderson and his one-on-one matchup with UF defensive dog Scottie Wilbekin that was so entertaining in two games last season. But Donovan will keep this pretty simple. UF has a three-game lead in the SEC with five games to play and thus a chance to inch closer to its goal of winning a third conference title in four seasons. The Rebels, meanwhile, have dropped three in a row and are looking more and more like NIT bait. They need this killer RPI win to jumpstart a late-season run and catch the eye of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. The “Tad Pad” will be jacked for an 11 a.m. local tipoff. This will be another “Embrace the Struggle” theme for the Gators.

On the Gators: Backup point guard Kasey Hill (groin) will miss his second straight game. ... Florida is 6-0 on the road this season, which not only is the best start of an SEC campaign but also the most consecutive league road wins in school history. ... The UF defense took one on the chin Tuesday against Auburn. Though the Gators rank first in the league in scoring defense (58.3 ppg) and second in field-goal percentage defense (.398), they’re now 11th in defending the 3-point line (.345) after Auburn's performance from out there. ...  ... Senior forward Casey Prather (15.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg) appears to have regained his bounce after a few games hindered by a sore ankle. In the wins over Kentucky and Auburn he totaled 40 points and 13 rebounds. He’s now shooting 64.5 percent, which not only tops the SEC, but ranks fourth in the nation. ... Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II’s 3-point shooting has dropped to 37.1 percent in SEC play (compared to 41.9 in all games), but in each of the last three games Frazier (12.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg) has buried huge treys at clutch moments late: with 3:32 to go at Tennessee to put UF up by 4; with 4:16 to go at Kentucky to put UF up by 5; and with 40 seconds left to give UF the lead vs. Auburn. Frazier, though, sprained his hand in the second half of the Auburn game. He'll play, but he's a little sore. That bears watching. ... Speaking of the last three games, Wilbekin (13.6 ppg) has scored 59 points, sank 25 of 28 free throws, dished 12 assists and turned the ball over just once.

On the Rebels: Consecutive losses at Alabama, at Georgia and a home blowout by Kentucky has Ole Miss fighting for its NCAA lives. Before getting stomped by the Wildcats, the Rebels had won 10 straight SEC home games, dating to last year. Of the five this season, all but one were tight to the wire. ... Everyone knows about Mississippi’s 3-point prowess (first in league at 8.1 per game), but the Rebels also get after it some on defense, forcing 14.5 turnovers per game. ... They are not the physical, board-pounding team of the past, with Holloway and Reginald Buckner gone, but they remain formidable, especially at home because of the ability to get hot from long range. ... Henderson is averaging 20.2 points in SEC play and actually shooting better from 3-point range (37.1) than overall (36.9). ... Point guard Jarvis Summers (17 ppg, 3.8 apg) is not be ignored and actually is a more efficient shooter -- 49 percent from floor; 46.3 from arc -- than Henderson.

Key numbers:

* 0 - Mississippi's all-time wins against teams ranked either No. 1 or No. 2. The Rebels are 0-14 vs. No. 1 teams and 0-8 vs. No. 2.

* 3 - UF players who had at least seven rebounds against Auburn; Prather 9, Will Yeguete 8, Patric Young 7.

* 16 - Deficit Florida faced in their last trip to Oxford before rallying to win. The Rebels stormed to a 20-4 lead, before the Gators came back for a 64-60 win on Jan. 26, 2012 behind Erving Walker’s 10 points and nine assists.

* 18 - Consecutive 3-pointers missed by UF reserve forward Dorian Finney-Smith over the last six games. “Doe-Doe” is 11-for-43 overall from the floor (25.6 percent) during that time.

* 75.5 - UF’s free-throw percentage over the last five games. The Gators were at 65.6 percent through the first 21 games.

Watch for it: The Gators have had a few sluggish starts of late, but more so at home. UF was pretty sharp from the opening tips in wins at Tennessee and Kentucky. A quick start would help this game too, especially with the unusual 11 a.m. tip. Wakeup call is at 7, team breakfast 7:30, departure for arena 9:15. So the Gators will be on the floor when some of their fans are crawling from bed and pouring the first cup of coffee.


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