Gators looking to avoid trap game at Auburn
Published: Friday, January 17, 2014 at 5:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2014 at 5:53 p.m.
On the surface, it looks like a classic case of a matchup between two teams heading in opposite directions.
Who: No. 7 Florida Gators (14-2, 3-0 SEC) vs. Auburn Tigers (8-6, 0-3 SEC)
When: 4 p.m.
Where: Auburn Arena, Auburn, Ala.
TV: SEC Network (Ch. 13, Fox, Gainesville)
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
Florida is 3-0 in the SEC, riding an eight-game winning streak and ranked seventh in the country. Auburn is 0-3 in the SEC and hasn’t beaten Florida in a regular-season game since 1999, Billy Donovan’s third year as the UF head coach.
Throw in the fact Florida won at Auburn by 31 points last February in the same building and Saturday’s 4 p.m. game between the teams has all the makings for a yawner.
Or a trap game.
“We talked about it after practice (Thursday),” said senior center Patric Young. “You’d hate it to come down to the last four or five games of the year trying to close it out and say we should have pulled out this game.
“We have to go in there with a humble mindset knowing we’ll have a fight on our hands.”
While Auburn’s record (8-6) is hardly noteworthy, anyone who has watched the Tigers play this year knows it can be a dangerous team. Auburn has non-conference wins over ACC foes Clemson and Boston College and its three SEC losses have come by a total of 16 points.
“Auburn is clearly much, much better this year than they were last year,” Donovan said before his team hopped on a pair of buses to make the drive to Auburn. “Last year, we made 15 3-point shots. You make 15 3s, you don’t have to play well to win. We can’t expect to shoot the ball like that.
“It’s a totally different year and different game.”
It will help that the arena is familiar to most of the players on Florida’s team. For the seniors, it will be their third trip to Auburn in four years.
And Casey Prather will be one of those seniors. Donovan said he expects Prather, who has missed the last two games with a bone bruise to his knee, to play a limited role Saturday.
Prather, Florida’s leading scorer, was cleared for contact for Friday’s practice in Gainesville.
“He’s available for the game,” Donovan said. “How much he’ll play is really hard to say. I’m pretty doubtful if he’ll play much.”
Florida will need all defensive hands on deck against Auburn’s 1-2 punch of guards Chris Denson, the SEC’s leading scorer, and KT Harrell, who is third in the league in scoring. Harrell is a 3-point specialist who is fifth in the conference in the category while Denson is a left-handed slasher who finds ways to contort his body to get shots up on the glass.
Denson has averaged 21 points in his three SEC games.
“They run everything through those two guys,” Young said. “We’ll help out as much as we can as bigs.”
But therein lies the problem, according to Donovan. Too much help leaves the boards vulnerable and Auburn’s 7-foot center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum and 6-6 forward Allen Payne have made a living on offensive rebounds.
“(Auburn coach) Tony (Barbee) puts them in real good positions on the court where you can’t give a lot of help,” Donovan said of Auburn’s top two scorers. “The more help you give, the more you give the frontcourt the ability to rebound the ball.
“There has to be really good choices made defensively on when you help and when you don’t. You don’t want to free up guys to have big nights.”
Florida is ranked at the top of the SEC in scoring defense (and 10th nationally). Conversely, Auburn ranks next to last defensively in the SEC, allowing more than 70 points a game. The Tigers also rank last in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage defense (302nd in the nation).
The trap game awaits this afternoon.
“It’s not because of the team you’re going against,” Young said. “It’s more about what’s happening with your team, human nature. Are you pursuing greatness? Are you looking at it as an opportunity to relax a little bit or do you keep seeing it as a chance to get better and achieve your goal at the end.”
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 12.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 12.4 ppg, 3.8 apg
G Kasey Hill 6-1 Fr 6.8 ppg, 3.5 apg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg
AUBURN PROBABLE STARTERS
G KT Harrell 6-4 Jr. 19.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg
G Tahj Shamsid-Deen 5-10 Fr. 8.4 ppg, 3.4 apg
G Chris Denson 6-2 Sr. 19.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg
F Allen Payne 6-6 Sr.. 6.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg
C Asauhn Dixon-Tatum 7-0 Sr. 6.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg
Notes: Florida is 18-4 against Auburn under Billy Donovan. The Gators have won five straight and 15 of their last 16 in the series. …. Florida’s last loss to Auburn was 61-58 at the buzzer in the quarterfinals of the 2009 SEC Tournament. … Florida and Auburn are playing their first home-and-home series since 1991, before the SEC expanded to 12 teams. … Florida ranks first in the SEC in scoring defense at 59.6 points allowed per game. … Forward Dorian Finney-Smith is averaging 11.1 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds off the bench. Finney-Smith has Florida’s lone two double-doubles this season. … Starting center Patric Young has reached double figures in scoring in five straight games. Young is averaging 12.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game during that span. … Auburn senior guard Chris Denson (19.4 ppg) and junior guard KT Harrell (19.0 ppg) rank first and third in the league in scoring, respectively. Harrell is a transfer from Virginia. … Auburn is 8-2 at home this season, with wins over Clemson and Boston College. … Florida is 2-2 on the road this season and 4-2 in road/neutral site games.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Florida’s shooting
Last season, Florida made a season-high 15 3-pointers in an 83-52 win at Auburn. Florida coach Billy Donovan said it’s unreasonable for the Gators to shoot as well Saturday against the Tigers. But the Gators are coming off a season-high 11 3-pointers made against Georgia, including five from sophomore guard Michael Frazier II. Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith also has improved his shooting touch of late. Finney-Smith is 6 of 12 from 3-point range over his last two games to improve to 36 percent (18 of 50) from beyond the arc this season.
2. Perimeter defense
Quick Auburn guards Chris Denson (19.4 ppg) and KT Harrell (19.0 ppg) are capable of scoring both from 3-point range and driving to the basket. It will be important for Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin to get help on the perimeter guarding Auburn’s dynamic scoring duo. Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II has shown improvement guarding the perimeter of late but will be tested. So will Florida freshman point guard Kasey Hill, who had a team-high two steals against Georgia.
3. Battle on the boards
Florida ranks fifth in the SEC in rebounding margin at plus-5.2. Auburn is ninth at plus-1.7. This should be a game where Florida takes advantage of its size inside for second-chance opportunities. Florida needs to be careful on the defensive glass, though. The Gators have allowed an average of 15.5 offensive rebounds over their last two games.
— Kevin Brockway