Gators look for fast start in Starkville


Florida's Patric Young smiles after taking a charge against Mississippi State during their game last year at the O'Dome. The No. 8 Gators visit Starkville, Miss., for a rematch tonight.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 12:21 a.m.

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Florida doesn't need to be reminded of its most recent slow start heading into tonight's game at Mississippi State.

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Florida's Patric Young smiles after taking a charge against Mississippi State during their game last year at the O'Dome. The No. 8 Gators visit Starkville, Miss., for a rematch tonight.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer

Facts

Saturday's game

Who: No. 8 Florida Gators (15-2, 5-0 SEC) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-10, 2-3 SEC)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss.
Gainesville-area TV: ESPN2
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM

The Gators were down 27-24 on Wednesday night at Georgia, the first time they trailed in a half since falling behind 33-23 on Dec. 22 against Kansas State. But Florida regrouped with a dominating second-half effort, outscoring Georgia 40-20 in the 64-47 win.

Getting off to a better start will be a priority for the No. 8 Gators tonight in their second straight road game. Florida responded to the challenge of falling behind 11-2 early at Georgia. But it's never easy playing uphill away from home.

“We have to make sure we're ready to go from the get-go because teams on the road are going to be really excited,” Florida junior forward Will Yeguete said.

Florida allowed six 3-pointers in the first half against Georgia before clamping down defensively in the final 20 minutes. Florida coach Billy Donovan said the Gators were late on some defensive rotations, which resulted in some wide-open Georgia looks at the basket.

“I want our guys to play perfect and great for every single second of the game,” Donovan said. “But I think also you have to prepare your team, when things don't go well, how are they going to respond. And it was good to see our guys respond the way they did coming out of the half for us because it was not a great first half for us by any stretch of the imagination.”

The Gators (15-2, 5-0 SEC) will be going for their eighth straight victory, which would match their longest winning streak since starting the 2009-10 season 8-0. They will face a Mississippi State team that's rebuilding under first-year coach Rick Ray. After winning its first two SEC games, Mississippi State has lost its last three games by an average margin of 24.3 points.

The Bulldogs average an SEC-high 17.9 turnovers per game, which bodes well for Florida, considering its ability to press. Mississippi State is coming off a 96-70 loss at Arkansas on Wednesday night. In the Arkansas loss, the Bulldogs had 29 turnovers, which led to 42 Arkansas points.

“We're definitely going to press because that's what we do and hopefully we can turn them over,” Yeguete said.

Donovan said Ray has done a good job of mixing defenses early this season.

“You are going to see 2-3 zone, 1-3-1, aggressive man-to-man,” Donovan said. “They play extremely hard.”

But Mississippi State is clearly not as talented as it has been in seasons past. When Ray took over for Rick Stansbury during the offseason, underclassman starters Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney both declared early for the NBA Draft. A third starter, Rodney Hood, transferred to Duke. To make matters worse for the Bulldogs, starting center Wendell Lewis has been out since mid-December with a fractured kneecap.

Junior guard Jalen Steele, a 36.6-percent 3-point shooter, is the only returning starter from last season's Mississippi State team.

“He's been always a guy who can change the game because of his ability to shoot the basketball,” Donovan said. “He can do it off the dribble, he can do it off the catch and he's also got the ability to kind of get in the lane and create and make things happen. He's a very good player, and we have to do a good job on him.”

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 13.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg

G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 12.2 ppg, 2.4 apg

G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Jr. 8.9 ppg, 4.8 apg

F Erik Murphy 6-10 Sr. 12.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg

C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 11.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg

MISSISSIPPI STATE PROBABLE STARTERS

G Jalen Steele 6-3 Jr. 10.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg

G Trivante Bloodman 6-0 So. 5.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg

G Craig Sword 6-3 Fr. 9.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg

F Colin Borchert 6-8 Jr. 6.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg

F Gavin Ware 6-9 Fr. 8.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg

Notes: Florida has won seven in a row and is 5-0 in the SEC for just the fourth time in program history. The Gators previously started 5-0 in the SEC in 1961, 2003 and 2007. … The Gators are playing their fourth road game in their last five games and have played nine of their last 12 away from the O'Connell Center. … Florida ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 51.4 points per game. The Gators have held nine opponents under 50 points and 13 opponents under 60 points. … Senior forward Erik Murphy ranks first in the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage at 45.7 percent (32-of-70). … Kenny Boynton made his 300th career 3-pointer against Georgia, becoming just the seventh player in SEC history to reach the mark. … Mississippi State is 5-2 at home this season. … The Bulldogs are bringing their top two scorers — forward Roquez Johnson (10.7 ppg) and guard Fred Thomas (10.6 ppg) — off the bench. … Junior forward Casey Prather remains out for the Gators with a high ankle sprain.

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