Florida coach Mike White described the challenge of facing Texas A&M’s vaunted frontline as a “bloodbath.”
“It needs to be for us to have any chance,” White said. “If it’s not, we have no chance. It needs to be incredibly competitive on the interior. We’ve got to put forth as great a physical effort as we have this year just to have a chance at the end of the game.”
But Florida could be catching No. 11 Texas A&M at an opportune time to pull off an upset when the two teams meet tonight in College Station, Texas. Swingman D.J. Hogg, Texas A&M’s leading scorer at 14.6 points per game, will sit out his third straight game on a disciplinary suspension. The Aggies could be down two more key perimeter players as well. Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said Monday he doesn’t expect guard Admon Gilder to be back from a knee injury that has sidelined him for close to two weeks. Starting point guard Duane Wilson, a grad transfer from Marquette who is averaging 4.5 assists per game, also could be out after suffering a leg injury during Texas A&M’s 79-57 SEC opening loss at Alabama.
As a result, a pair of freshmen (Jay Jay Chandler and Savion Flagg) could start in the backcourt for Texas A&M against the Gators.
Up front, however, the Aggies remain formidable with 6-10 junior center Tyler Davis, 6-10 senior forward Tony Trocha-Morelos and 6-8 sophomore forward Robert Williams. Davis, a three-year starter, has posted four double-doubles this season. Williams, a projected NBA lottery pick at the end of the 2016-17 season, chose to return to school for his sophomore year because he said he felt he needed to grow both on and off the court. Williams has struggled since Thanksgiving, but still leads the SEC in rebounding at 9.9 per game while posting 21 blocked shots.
As a team, Texas A&M leads the SEC in rebounding margin at plus-9.9 and is second in blocked shots at 6.3 per game.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Florida senior forward Egor Koulechov, who had a team-high eight rebounds in UF’s SEC-opening win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. “I think coach (White) is going to do a good job preparing us, giving us a good gameplan. We’ve just got to execute it. Obviously they’re a very physical team but I think we’ll be ready.”
Florida held its own on the boards against Vanderbilt with an even 36-36 margin, but was outrebounded 23-10 in the second half. White refused to use going to a zone defense during points in the second half as an excuse for his team’s problems on the glass.
“We’ve learned how to play a little bit harder, but it’s still a process for us,” White said. “I’m just hopeful that we can take another jump or two in those regards, because whether it was zone or man, it was just a Gator and a Commodore, it’s 50-50 and they came up with them. Whether it’s zone or man, you do your job, you block your guy out, you go pursue the ball with two hands and you get a man rebound and they got more of those than we did.”
Florida posted a season-high 10 blocked shots against Vanderbilt, with junior center Kevarrius Hayes getting four blocks and redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone adding three blocks. But White wants the Gators to play more sound defense on the perimeter after giving up 54 points in the second half of its 81-74 win over Vanderbilt. White said he felt Vanderbilt was getting too many straight-line drives to the basket in the second half.
“You like blocked shots, you like the activity but at the same time, sometimes, you wish you don’t see quite as many of them, you wish you don’t need to clean up mistakes,” White said. “We all want to make less mistakes.”
FREE THROWS: White said Koulechov, who broke out of a shooting slump by going 2 for 4 from 3-point range against Vanderbilt, has been dealing with plantar fasciitis for the last month. “He’s been dealing with it for a while and it stiffens up on him,” White said. “Sometimes he feels great, sometimes he hobbles a little bit and it gets to his athleticism and his legs, of course. And that affects your jumper and containing the basketball and all those type things. But you know he’s toughing it out. I think the break helped him a little bit.” … White also said it’s too soon to know how much UF leading scorer Jalen Hudson can provide off the bench. Hudson, who dealt with an illness last week, is averaging a team-high 17.3 points per game. Hudson scored eight points in 14 minutes off the bench in his SEC debut against Vanderbilt. … Florida will be playing its first true road game, though the Gators have traveled to Portland, Oregon and New Jersey for neutral site games and is 3-2 in neutral court contests. ” It’s a great opportunity,” White said. “It will be the first time we address, guys it’s going to get really, really loud and we’re going to have 10 people in there who want us to win and we have to play with poise and we’ve got to make good decisions and have some maturity when the place is rocking.”
Who: Florida Gators (9-4, 1-0 SEC) vs. No. 11 Texas A&M Aggies (11-2, 0-1 SEC)
When: 9 p.m.
Where: Reed Arena, College Station, Texas
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G;KeVaughn Allen;6-2;So.;12.2 ppg; 2.7 rpg
G;Chris Chiozza;6-0; Sr.;13.2 ppg;5.5 apg
G;Egor Koulechov;6-5; GSr.;14.7 ppg;6.8 rpg
F;Keith Stone;6-8; RSo.;5.8 ppg;3.2 rpg
C;Kevarrius Hayes;6-9; Jr.;4.5 ppg;5.2 rpg
TEXAS A&M PROBABLE STARTERS
G;Jay Jay Chandler;6-4;Fr.;4.4 ppg;1.2 rpg
G;Savion Flagg;6-7;Fr.;7.8 ppg;5.6 rpg
F;Robert Williams; 6-8;So.;8.0 ppg;9.9 rpg
F;Tonny Trocha-Morelos;6-10;Sr.;8.7 ppg;5.4 rpg
C;Tyler Davis;6-10;Jr.;11.9 ppg;8.2 rpg
Notes: Florida is 6-4 all-time against Texas A&M and 1-2 at Reed Arena, with both losses coming by 3 points or less. … The Gators are facing a ranked team for the fourth time this season, with Florida going 2-1 with wins over No. 19 Gonzaga and No. 20 Cincinnati and a loss against No. 2 Duke. … Florida ranks first in the SEC in free throw percentage (77.7 percent), second in steals (7.7), second in turnover margin (plus-5.2) and third in 3-pointers made (9.2). … Point guard Chris Chiozza is averaging 18 points per game and 4.7 assists over this last three games with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 14 to 1. “He’s been our most consistent guy all year, really,” White said. Chiozza ranks second in the SEC in assists (5.5 apg) and third in steals (1.8 spg) … Senior forward Egor Koulechov leads the SEC in free-throw percentage (97.6 percent) and his active streak of 31 straight is 11 shy of Canyon Barry’s school record of 42 in a row set last season. … Texas A&M is holding opposing teams to just 27.1 percent from 3-point range this season, while shooting 34.5 percent from beyond the arc.
— Kevin Brockway