Upstart Aggies have Gators' attention
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 12:16 a.m.
A number of factors have Florida concerned heading into its first Southeastern Conference matchup with Texas A&M tonight at Reed Arena.
Who: No. 10 Florida Gators (12-2, 2-0 SEC) vs. Texas A&M Aggies (12-3, 2-0 SEC)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Reed Arena, College Station, Texas
Gainesville-area TV: ESPN2
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
This is UF's fourth trip across time zones since mid-December, which has included road trips to Arizona, Kansas City and Louisiana. The miles have added up for the road-weary Gators. And Texas A&M is coming into the game with confidence following an 83-71 upset of Kentucky last Saturday at Rupp Arena.
That win, and Texas A&M senior guard Elston Turner's 40-point performance, grabbed the attention of UF's players.
“You wouldn't think anyone could do that at Rupp Arena, but it just shows that you've got to go out there and compete every single night, that no game is given to you,” Florida junior center Patric Young said. “We've got to go out there and stick to our scouting and try and win the best we can.”
No. 10 Florida (12-2, 2-0 SEC) has won four straight with four different starting lineups. The banged-up Gators will be without junior forward Casey Prather for at least the rest of the week with an ankle sprain. Senior guard Mike Rosario (sprained ankle) and junior forward Will Yeguete (knee) are probable. Senior forward Erik Murphy is still playing with a pad underneath his jersey to protect a broken rib.
It will be important for the Gators to get off to a strong start in a hostile environment. A sellout of more than 12,000 is expected because the Aggies (12-3, 2-0 SEC) are honoring their football team at halftime for their Cotton Bowl win. And yes, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is expected to attend.
“Going on the road there on Thursday will be, without question, a great challenge,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
Florida will be playing away from the O'Connell Center for the seventh time in its last nine games. But the Gators have silenced opposing crowds with consistent, hard-nosed defense. Florida is holding teams to 36.5 percent shooting from the floor despite its myriad of minor injuries.
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy called Florida “one of the best defensive teams in the country.” The Gators rank third in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 52 points per game.
“They play with great energy and they have good experience and then when you have a guy like Patric Young that anchors the defense, they can pressure the ball and force you into him,” Kennedy said. “He can block shots or he can be an intimidating force around the basket. They pick up full court, they guard you a variety of different ways with ball screens, they are experienced, and Billy has got them playing at a high level.”
Florida beat Texas A&M 84-64 last season at the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise. The Gators jumped to an early 21-4 lead and Texas A&M never recovered. But Donovan pointed out that former Texas A&M big man Khris Middleton was just coming back from a knee injury at the time.
“There will be some things from that game that we can look at in terms of philosophy,” Donovan said. “But their personnel has changed some, just as our personnel's changed some.”
Turner, who scored a team-high 20 points for Texas A&M in last year's loss to the Gators, said the key will be to prevent Florida from getting off to another fast start.
“That begins with our defense,” Turner said. “We have to be able to get back in transition and mark up on their players because they can break the game open shooting the basketball.”
Kennedy said he doesn't expect Texas A&M to come into the game overconfident after the Kentucky win. While Texas A&M has posted some big wins, the Aggies also suffered an embarrassing home loss to Southern during its non-conference schedule.
“We sure haven't arrived by any means,” Kennedy said. “We've got a lot of work to get accomplished and we can get better in a lot of areas.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 13.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg
G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 12.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Jr. 8.1 ppg, 4.7 apg
F Erik Murphy 6-10 Sr. 12.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 11.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg
TEXAS A&M PROBABLE STARTERS
G J'Mychal Reese 6-1 Fr. 7.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg
G Fabyon Harris 5-11 Jr. 10.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg
G Elston Turner 6-5 Sr. 17.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg
F Kourtney Roberson 6-9 So. 6.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg
F Ray Turner 6-9 Sr. 11.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg
Notes: Florida is 2-1 all-time against Texas A&M. The Gators beat Texas A&M 84-64 at the Orange Bowl Classic last season and split a home-and-home series with the Aggies during the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons. Florida lost its lone game at Reed Arena, 57-54. … Florida ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 52 points per game. The Gators have held seven opponents under 50 points and 10 opponents under 60 points. … Offensively, the Gators are second in the SEC in field goal percentage (48.3 percent), 3-point field goal percentage (37.4) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3-1). … Texas A&M is third in the SEC in scoring defense (59.4 ppg) and leads the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage (38.9 percent).