UF MEN'S BASKETBALL

Gators to defend win streak vs. upset-minded Aggies


Published: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 31, 2014 at 8:54 p.m.

Texas A&M comes into its meeting this afternoon against Florida on a four-game losing streak.

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Florida's Patric Young (4) dunks the ball as Texas A&M's Alex Caruso (21) watches on Jan. 17, 2013, in College Station, Texas. Florida defeated Texas A&M 68-47. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Facts

Today's game

Who: No. 3 Florida Gators (18-2, 7-0 SEC) vs. Texas A&M Aggies (12-8, 3-4 SEC)
When: 4 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center, Gainesville
TV: WOGX, Fox Ch. 13, Gainesville (SEC Network)
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM

But the Aggies already have proven the ability to rise to the occasion on the road in big stages in SEC play. Last season, Texas A&M stunned Kentucky in an 83-71 win at Rupp Arena. A few weeks ago, the Aggies knocked off Tennessee 57-56 at Thompson-Boling Arena on a game-winning 3-point shot by Antwan Space with 4.4 seconds remaining.

The No. 3 Gators are hoping not to become another upset victim today at the sold-out O'Connell Center. Florida (18-2, 7-0 SEC) comes into the game on a 12-game winning streak and has won a school-record 26 straight games at home. A big reason? Florida's defense, which moved up to eighth in the nation and remains first in the SEC in fewest points allowed at 58.5 points per game.

During UF's winning streak, the Gators have held seven opponents under 60 points and three teams under 50 points.

“We can't control the ball going in the basket,” Florida senior center Patric Young said. “But we can control our effort and energy on the defensive end, sticking to our cues, helping the helper, the same things we hear every single night.”

As one of last season's two SEC newcomers, Texas A&M (12-8, 3-4 SEC) is making just its second trip to the O'Connell Center and first for a conference game. The last time Texas A&M visited was in 1992, when the elder George Bush was president and M.C. Hammer was still too legit to quit. The arena had a Kevlar bubble roof back then, and the Lon Kruger-coached Gators knocked off Texas A&M 73-46.

Florida enters today's matchup an 18-point favorite, but preparing for the second straight week on short rest, UF is concerned about some of Texas A&M's offensive standouts. Junior guard Jamal Jones, a junior college transfer, scored 20 or more points in three of his first four SEC games. Senior guard Fabyon Harris is averaging 6.8 points off the bench for the Aggies and sophomore point guard Alex Caruso is leading the SEC in assists (4.7 per game).

“They're a very good team,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “They have a lot of different pieces. Jones is as good a player as there is in this league. (Kourtney) Roberson is a veteran frontcourt player, he's been in the league for a long, long time. Caruso's a year older now, leading the league in assists. They have very, very good personnel.”

Florida wasn't great offensively in its 62-51 win Thursday night at Mississippi State. The Gators went through a 5:38 scoreless stretch to end the first half and missed 11 free throws (8 of 19).

“We didn't do a great job of moving the ball around and going with our style of play,” Young said. “We were trying to go one-on-one, and we're not a one-on-one team. We're a move-the-ball-around and utilize-each-guy kind of team. We picked that up in the second half a lot better.”

UF's ball movement improved as the game progressed. Florida finished with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 14 to 9 and has posted a positive assist-to-turnover in each of its last three games.

“We missed a lot of baskets in and around the rim,” Donovan said. “And I thought the same thing for them, they missed a lot of layups and shots inside the paint at point-blank range. Both teams were affected.”

Walker debut upcoming

Florida freshman McDonald's All-American forward Chris Walker will make his debut Tuesday at the O'Connell Center against Missouri. But Donovan offered little information when asked about Walker's reaction to being cleared or how he plans to work the 6-foot-10 forward from Bonifay into the lineup.

“We're just getting ready for A&M right now,” Donovan said. “We'll address that once the game is over with. I'm sure Chris is excited, but he's obviously not playing tomorrow so our total focus is going into this game with the guys that are going to be able to play.”

Donovan said he hasn't fully read the NCAA's report, which stated that Walker received impermissible benefits that included free cell phone service, $270 cash from two different agents and free travel for himself and family members.

“Chris is a really, really good kid,” Donovan said. “I think one of the things that is very difficult in these situations is really whether they know the rules or not. I'm sure Chris didn't know a lot of those things. I think obviously if Chris knew some of those things were a problem, I would believe he wouldn't have done those things.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 12.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg

G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 12.2 ppg, 3.7 apg

F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr 16.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg

F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg

C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg

TEXAS A&M PROBABLE STARTERS

G Shawn Smith 6-4 Fr. 5.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg

G Alex Caruso 6-5 So. 8.9 ppg, 4.7 apg

G Jamal Jones 6-8 Jr. 11.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg

F Antwan Space 6-8 So. 6.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg

F Kourtney Roberson 6-9 Jr. 9.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg

Notes: Florida is 3-1 all-time against Texas A&M and 2-0 vs. the Aggies under Billy Donovan. … The Gators return home to start a three-game homestand that will continue with games against Missouri (Tuesday) and Alabama (Feb. 8). … Florida's 12-game winning streak is its longest in-season since winning 17 in a row to start the 2005-06 season. … Senior forward Casey Prather ranks ninth in the SEC in scoring (16.7 ppg) and has scored in double figures in all 18 games he's appeared in this season. Prather has an SEC-high 113 2-point field goals, ahead of LSU center Johnny O'Bryant III (111) and Missouri point guard Jordan Clarkson (110). … Texas A&M returns three starters from a team that finished 18-15 last season and 7-11 in its first full season in the SEC. Florida routed Texas A&M 68-47 in College Station, Texas, last season.

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