UF MEN'S BASKETBALL
Gators motivated by more than Henderson's antics
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014 at 8:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 21, 2014 at 11:58 p.m.
Being such a mature and successful team, the politically correct thing to say is that last year's bitter loss to Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament final will not be a factor Saturday in Oxford, Miss.
Who: No. 2 Florida Gators (24-2, 13-0 SEC) vs. Ole Miss Rebels (16-10, 7-6)
Where: Tad Smith Coliseum, Oxford, Miss.
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
The image of Marshall Henderson running up and down the court after that game mocking Florida fans with the Gator chomp has been forgiven and forgotten.
Revenge is not what motivates the No. 2 Florida Gators on Saturday.
UF coach Billy Donovan elected to go with the politically correct version Friday. But senior center Patric Young kind of pushed the envelope a little bit with his version.
“It was really tough,” Young said of last March's 66-63 upset loss to the Rebels in the SEC title game. “That's in the past. Of course, you know, losing an opportunity to cut more nets down, we're going to have a little grudge in our hearts.
“We can't let that be the motivating factor for us this year. We want to be great, so that's the key internal factor for us to want to play this game — an opportunity to strive for that.
“Going in, we know what they're capable of doing. We just have to come ready to play.”
Seconds later, though, when he was asked about Henderson doing the Gator chomp after the game, Young revealed that the loss to the Rebels in Nashville, Tenn., still holds considerable sting for the Gators.
“We have a video playing of him doing it over and over and over in the locker room,” he said. “So, how can I forget?”
Maybe the best way to forget is to win Saturday and keep Florida's winning streak (18 games) alive as the Gators continue their march toward a possible third regular-season SEC title in four years.
To accomplish that, maybe the Gators do need to block out last year's loss and stay in the moment — the same successful approach they have taken all season.
“I don't think (last year's game is a factor),” Donovan said. “Obviously, we've lost three players from that team and they've lost a lot of frontcourt players from their team. From my perspective, that was a game that was played last year in the SEC Tournament and both teams had an opportunity in that game.
“They took better advantage of their opportunity than we did. We're not getting that game back. It's not like we're going to replay that game. This is a new game for the 2014 SEC schedule. Right now, we're having to play the game on the road.”
The obvious similarity from a year ago is that the critical matchup likely will be Scottie Wilbekin and the UF defense vs. Henderson, the confident and flamboyant guard whose shooting range stretches almost to half court. Henderson put up 21 points on the Gators in last season's conference tournament championship game.
“I don't even know if (Wilbekin) will be guarding Henderson. I don't know what we'll do there,” Donovan said. “They've got a lot of different players. We're going to move around matchups, I think, for Henderson. You're not going to take away all of his shots.
“Andy (Kennedy) does a good job of putting him in situations to utilize the thing that he can do well, which obviously is shoot the ball with great range. He's got great confidence in himself. The things Andy does shows and displays his confidence in Henderson.
“We've always been a defensive team. It's always been about our team, not one matchup, one guy going against another guy. It's no different than the Kentucky game. When you look at their personnel and the matchups, you probably say at every position Kentucky is more talented than we are. But you don't want to play like that. You've got to play as a team. Offense, play as a team. Defensively, (play as a team).”
For the second game in a row, the Gators likely will be without true freshman point guard Kasey Hill, who continues to nurse a pulled groin he sustained in the Kentucky game last Saturday.
"I would say right now he's doubtful,” Donovan said. “He did not practice at all yesterday (Thursday), didn't do much. I would say he is probably progressing a little bit more slowly than we maybe anticipated when he first got hurt. Right now, I would say unless there's some kind of miraculous recovery here this afternoon, he'd be out tomorrow.”
Donovan said Young (knee), forward Casey Prather (ankle) and guard Michael Frazier II (wrist) will play, although possibly with some discomfort.
Young almost did not play in Wednesday's win over Auburn after tweaking one of his sore knees in warmups.
“I just jumped and landed wrong or something like that,” Young said. “I felt it every time I jumped, even on jump shots just on my right knee. I'm doing well now, though, so it was just a freak thing that happened.”
Frazier injured his left wrist in the second half against Auburn, but it's just a sprain, Donovan said.
“He is a little bit hampered by it. He is cleared to play and he will play, but he's having some issues with it,” Donovan said.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 12.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 13.6 ppg, 3.7 apg
F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr 15.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg
OLE MISS PROBABLE STARTERS
G Marshall Henderson 6-2 Sr. 19.4 ppg, 2.2 apg
G Jarvis Summers 6-3 Jr. 17.0 ppg, 3.8 apg
G LaDarius White 6-6 Jr. 7.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg
F Aaron Jones 6-9 Jr. 6.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg
C Dwight Coleby 6-9 Fr. 1.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg
Notes: Florida is 61-43 all-time against Mississippi and 14-7 against the Rebels under Billy Donovan . … The Gators are going for their seventh straight SEC road win, which would set a school record. Florida previously won six straight SEC road games from March 5, 2006 to Feb. 10, 2007. … Florida's 24-2 start matches its 2006-07 national title team for best start in school history. … Florida is 62 of 78 (79.5 percent) from the free-throw line over its last three games. … The Gators enter the game with the Rebels first in the SEC and sixth in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 58.3 points per game. … Senior forward Casey Prather has made 14 of his last 17 shot attempts from the floor. Prather leads the SEC in field goal percentage at 62.8 percent. … Ole Miss has dropped four of its last five games. But the Rebels are 5-1 at home in SEC play, with their lone conference loss at home coming last Tuesday against Kentucky.
Three things to watch
1. The 3-point line
Ole Miss makes more 3-pointers than any team in the SEC (8.1), but also gives up more 3-pointers than any team in the league (7.0). The Gators are prone to cold starts from the perimeter, and the 11 a.m. local start should not help matters. Florida coach Billy Donovan said he wants sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith to maintain his aggressiveness, but also has talked to him about shot selection. Finney-Smith has missed his last 21 3-point attempts, dating back to Jan. 30 at Mississippi State. Ole Miss senior guard Marshall Henderson is a shooter with no conscience who will continue to fire away after early misses. It will be important for Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II to take a similar approach and not get down on himself if he misses his first two or three attempts from beyond the arc.
2. Attacking the glass
For as much of an impact Henderson made on the Rebels last season, Ole Miss' unsung heroes inside were senior forwards Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner. The Rebels have struggled to replace their physicality. Ole Miss ranks last in the SEC in rebounding margin (-4.0). Look for the Gators to attack the glass early and often. This should present a good opportunity for players like Finney-Smith, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Patric Young to get second-chance points inside.
3. Quicker start
Florida has been terrific closing out games this year, going 11-2 in games decided by single digits and 4-1 in games decided by 5 points or less. Now the challenge is for Florida to get off to a faster start. The Gators have either been behind or tied at halftime in each of their last five games. A good start will help take the Ole Miss crowd out of the game in a nationally televised game. The morning tip time will present a challenge. Look for the Gators to attempt to contain Ole Miss' starting backcourt of Henderson and point guard Jarvis Summers early. The duo have accounted for 46.1 percent of the Rebels' scoring in conference play this season.
— Kevin Brockway