Gators head into the Tigers' den
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 12:08 a.m.
Florida provided Missouri a rude welcome to the Southeastern Conference in its 31-point win over the Tigers at the O'Connell Center a month ago.
Who: No. 5 Florida at Missouri
When: Tuesday, 9 p.m.
Where: Mizzou Arena
Gainesville-area TV: ESPN
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM
But don't expect a similar outcome when Florida travels to Missouri tonight in the nationally televised rematch between the two schools. For starters, Missouri is playing at home, where the Tigers are 14-0 season. Also, senior forward Laurence Bowers has returned from a knee injury for the Tigers, giving Missouri added bulk inside it missed in the loss in Gainesville.
Florida coach Billy Donovan referred to Bowers as a “heart and soul guy” who provides intangibles to Missouri's team on both ends of the floor.
“Any time you take a player like that away from your team, your team is going to be a little bit different,” Donovan said. “Certainly, he's an older guy, a veteran, an experienced guy. Him being back only makes their team better.”
Like Arkansas, Missouri has been a different team at home this season. The Tigers have won their six SEC home games by an average margin of 15.7 points. Donovan pointed out that senior Missouri center Alex Oriakhi averages 11 points per game more at home, guard Earnest Ross averages 10 points per game more at home and junior point guard Phil Pressey's assist-to-turnover ratio is 3-to-1 at Mizzou Arena.
“They've been a team that's extremely explosive offensively at home,” Donovan said. “Their defensive numbers are pretty good at home and on the road. The difference is there's about a 16- or 18-point differential between home and on the road for them in different situations.”
What's kept Missouri from being an elite team this season is its 1-6 road record. The Tigers are 3-1 in neutral-court games, including wins over Illinois, Stanford and VCU.
“Most teams do play better at home,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “Our last few games on the road, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, we've played better. You're more comfortable, the crowd is behind you. We've been more aggressive at home on offense. Our defense, rebounding has been better.”
Haith said Bowers is still feeling his way back from the knee injury that sidelined him in Gainesville.
“He hasn't played as well as he's played before he went down,” Haith said. “We had to re-direct some roles when he was out and Alex Oriakhi became more of a focal point scoring and rebounding. Now our frontcourt is a little bit more formidable with Bowers coming back. He just has to find his niche. I want Laurence to focus on making great plays and playing great defense and his scoring will come.”
Florida also will be without one of its key frontcourt pieces when facing Missouri this time around. Junior forward Will Yeguete, who had 13 points and six rebounds in UF's win over Missouri, is still rehabbing from surgery to remove bone chips in his knee.
Florida moved up two spots to No. 5 in this week's AP men's college basketball poll.
The Gators are coming off an 83-52 win over Auburn, their eighth victory by 30 or more points this season.
Indiana held on to the No. 1 spot for the third straight week. Miami had 20 No. 1 votes and moved up one spot to second. Gonzaga, with two first-place votes, climbed two spots to third. Michigan State rose from eighth to No. 4.
The only team to fall out of the Top 25 rankings was Kentucky, which was No. 25 and dropped out after losses to Florida and Tennessee last week.
Florida freshman guard Michael Frazier II earned SEC freshman of the week honors. Frazier scored a career-high 18 points off the bench against Auburn on 6-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or email@example.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.