Florida has found more offensive rhythm with strong performances on the road in back-to-back wins at Texas A&M and Missouri last week.
The Gators will look to carry that momentum back home when they host Mississippi State tonight at the O’Connell Center.
After back-to-back 100-point-plus games at home to start the season against Gardner-Webb and North Florida, Florida is averaging 70.5 points and shooting just 25 percent from 3-point range (37-148) in its last six home games. The Gators are 4-2 at home during that span.
Last season, when Florida re-opened the O’Connell Center following its $64.5 million renovation, the Gators practiced in the O’Dome more often during the season to get used to the new sight lines and lighting in the building. Florida hasn’t practiced as much in the O’Connell Center this season.
But Florida coach Mike White said he thinks UF’s recent home shooting woes has more to do with shot selection than spending less time in the arena.
“We have all these people screaming for you and it doesn’t mean we need to hit a home run,” White said. “We’ve got to settle in offensively and slow down at home, play with more poise and not be in such a hurry to make a big play.”
White said the Gators didn’t even have a shoot-around before last Saturday’s game at Missouri and still shot 44.1 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from 3-point range at Mizzou Arena. Florida senior guard Egor Koulechov said he expects that Gators to play with more poise offensively tonight.
“If you take good shots, obviously you’re going to make a higher percentage,” Koulechov said. “We’ve just got to talk among each other, keep giving each other confidence. Coaches always do that for us, we’ve got to, as players, do that as well and execute.”
Mississippi State won’t make it easy for the Gators to get good looks at the basket. In his third season at Mississippi State, coach Ben Howland has built his team around defense, as he did for his prior teams at UCLA and Pittsburgh. Mississippi State ranks first in the SEC in scoring defense (63.5 ppg allowed), third in field goal percentage defense (.389), fifth in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.315) and fourth in block shots (6.0 bpg).
“They’re really sound,” White said. “They’re solid, they start really big in the front court, great length at the four (power forward) and the five (center). I mean, great length. As long a team as we’ll see all year. Their speed and quickness on the perimeter is probably as good as there is, as good as we’ll see this year.”
The Gators could be without their best all-around player, senior point guard Chris Chiozza, for Wednesday’s return home. Chiozza was diagnosed with strep throat and has sat out UF’s last two practices, though the six-foot Memphis native said he expects to play Wednesday.
With or without Chiozza, the Gators are looking to put together a complete offensive performance at home. White said he thinks the Gators are starting to find an offensive identity after struggles last month.
“We’re not there fully yet, but I think we have a better understanding of who operates where, better than vice versa,” White said. “Which spots certain individuals do damage from. When to throw it inside. When to shoot a 3. When to make the extra pass. Just a better rhythm.”
Who: Florida Gators (11-4, 3-0 SEC) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (13-2, 1-1 SEC)
Where: O’Connell Center
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G KeVaughn Allen 6-2 So., 11.1 ppg; 2.5 rpg
G Chris Chiozza 6-0 Sr., 13.1 ppg; 5.8 apg
G Egor Koulechov 6-5 GSr., 15.0 ppg 6.7 rpg
F Keith Stone 6-8 RSo., 7.3 ppg 3.5 rpg
C Kevarrius Hayes 6-9 Jr. 5.1 ppg 5.3 rpg
MISSISSIPPI STATE PROBABLE STARTERS
G Nick Weatherspoon 6-2 Fr., 11.3 ppg 3.1 rpg
G Quinndary Weatherspoon 6-4 Jr., 14.3 ppg 5.9 rpg
G Tyson Carter 6-7 Sr., 10.6 ppg 2.3 rpg
F Aric Holman 6-10 Jr., 12.2 ppg 7.0 rpg
F Abdul Ado 6-11 Fr., 6.4 ppg 6.9 rpg
Notes: Florida has won seven straight against Mississippi State and is 64-49 all-time against the Bulldogs. … The Gators have won five straight and are off to a 3-0 start in SEC play for the fifth time in the last six seasons. … Florida leads the SEC in turnover margin (plus-5.4), while ranking second in the league in free throw percentage (76.1 percent), 3-point field goal percentage, steals (7.6) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4-1). … Point guard Chris Chiozza has scored in double figures in seven straight games. At 450 career assists, Chiozza is two assists shy of passing Nick Calathes for fifth on UF’s all-time career assist list. … Senior forward Egor Koulechov leads the SEC in free-throw percentage at (95.7 percent). … Junior guard Jalen Hudson is coming off scoring 16 points off the bench against Missouri and is averaging a team-high 16.9 points per game. … After winning its SEC opener against Arkansas, Mississippi State is coming off a 64-58 loss at Ole Miss on Saturday. … Sophomore guard Lamar Peters is averaging 7.3 points and 3.6 assists off the bench for the Bulldogs. … Mississippi State went 12-1 in its non-conference schedule, with its lone loss coming at No. 14 Cincinnati (65-50).
— Kevin Brockway