Gators head west for top-10 matchup
Published: Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 14, 2012 at 11:46 p.m.
Florida is returning to the state where its 2011-12 season ended.
Who: No. 5 Florida Gators (7-0) vs. No. 8 Arizona Wildcats (7-0)
When: 10 p.m.
Where: McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
Gainesville TV: ESPN
Gainesville radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
But in this top-10 showdown in the desert, the No. 5 Gators enter their matchup at No. 8 Arizona with confidence.
Last March's heartbreaking Elite Eight loss to Louisville in Phoenix feels like an eternity ago. Florida is off to a 7-0 start, with its highest ranking since the end of the 2007 season. The Gators have won their games by an average of 25.3 points per contest, dismantling opponents with changing defenses and an unselfish, balanced offense.
Florida players and coaches for the most part downplayed tonight's matchup against unbeaten Arizona as a statement game. But junior guard Scottie Wilbekin, who had five steals in UF's win 10 days ago against Florida State, couldn't help but let the company line slip a little bit.
“We're excited to get a chance to prove ourselves again,” Wilbekin said. “I mean, we just want to prove that we're a legit team and we deserve to be in the top five. We want to win every game.”
Senior Florida forward Erik Murphy has been through enough games to know how to deal with the hype of a nationally televised matchup. Florida's last top-10 game was an 85-73 loss to Syracuse in 2009, when Murphy was a freshman. He didn't even remember it.
“The team is trying to take it as another game,” Murphy said. “The media and everything is trying to blow it up. It's an important game, obviously, two good teams and a test on the road, but I think we've got to approach it as another game and try to come out and focus on what coach gives us in a game plan and try to do what he says.”
Florida has stifled teams with a mix of zone, press and man defenses. The Gators are second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 48.3 points per game.
“It's all started with defense, limiting teams, limiting the amount of points they can score,” Wilbekin said. “I think that energizes our offense.”
In its last game against Florida State, Florida led by as many as 37 points in the second half. The Gators also have held a 30-point lead in the second half against Marquette and 20-point lead in the second half against Wisconsin.
“I wouldn't say things have come easy,” Murphy said. “We've made them look easy, but I think that's a product of what we've been doing since the start of the season in practice, all the work we put in, that's what has come out of it. We just have to keep sustaining it.”
Arizona presents a different challenge. Florida will be playing its second straight road game and first regular-season game west of Louisiana since appearing in a tournament in Las Vegas in 2006. The Wildcats also have the biggest frontline the Gators have faced this season, led by 7-foot freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski, 6-8 forward Brandon Ashley and 6-7 forward Solomon Hill.
Ashley and Tarczewski are part of an Arizona freshman class that was ranked third in the nation by most recruiting sites.
“You always learn something from your team every game you play in,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “This one is no different. Obviously, it's our second true road game against a very gifted and talented team, a team that's got tremendous experience on the perimeter and a lot of very talented new young guys. So I think you learn a lot more about your team, traveling across the country against a very, very big team.”
Arizona, meanwhile, will be playing its first ranked team of the season. The Wildcats are coming off a 66-54 road win last Saturday against Clemson and have managed to blend their veterans with a talented incoming freshman class.
“There's going to be a lot of people who will match the game to see how good we are and how good Florida is,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “No question when you play against a quality opponent, the game matters even more.”
How Florida has handled the hype and adulation during practice this week will likely determine the outcome of the game.
“People start to give you attention based on the margin of victory, and I'm not that sure that has anything to do with going into this game against Arizona,” Donovan said. “For me right now the attention is based on everything we've done in the past, but we're still kind of moving forward here. I still think we can get a lot better on both ends of the floor.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 14.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg
G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 11.4 ppg, 2.4 apg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Jr. 7.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg
F Erik Murphy 6-10 Sr. 11.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 10.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg
ARIZONA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Nick Johnson 6-3 So. 13.6 ppg, 3.7 apg
G Mark Lyons 6-2 Sr. 13.4 ppg, 2.6 apg
F Brandon Ashley 6-8 Fr. 9.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg
F Solomon Hill 6-7 Sr. 12.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg
C Kaleb Tarczewski 7-0 Fr. 6.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg
Notes: Florida has won seven straight to start the season for just the fifth time in school history. The Gators last went 7-0 to start the 2009-10 season. … The Gators have held five of their first seven opponents under 50 points and rank second in the NCAA in scoring defense (48.3 ppg). … Florida has won eight straight games against Pac-12 (or Pac-10) teams, including a 78-72 overtime win against Arizona at the O'Connell Center last season. … Arizona is shooting 40.5 percent from 3-point range this season. … The Wildcats have won their first seven games by an average margin of 20.4 points per game, while Florida has won by an average margin of 25.3 points. … Florida has won 19 games against top-10 ranked teams under Billy Donovan. … Murphy and Tarczewski attended the same high school, St. Mark's Prep in Massachusetts. “He's a legit 7-foot,” Murphy said. “He runs the court well. I know that just from talking to my high school coach.” At St. Mark's, Tarczewski played with Murphy's younger brother, Duke forward Alex Murphy.
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