GAME NOTES: The seventh-ranked Florida Gators will attempt to stay perfect at the O'Connell Center on Tuesday night when they play host to the Georgia Bulldogs in SEC action.
Georgia waded in mediocrity during its non-conference schedule with six wins and six losses, but it has shined since entering SEC play. The Bulldogs opened up league action on Jan. 8 with a 70-64 overtime victory at Missouri, thus ending the nation's longest home winning streak, and they followed that up with a 66-58 home victory versus Alabama on Saturday.
Florida suffered a pair of difficult road losses this season at Wisconsin (59-53) and Connecticut (65-64), but it has otherwise been flawless, running out to a 13-2 record, including a 9-0 mark at the O'Connell Center. The Gators are also off to a 2-0 start in the SEC, beating South Carolina at home (74-58) before outlasting Arkansas on the road on Saturday, 84-82 in overtime.
The Gators lead the all-time series with the Bulldogs, 108-99, which includes 11 straight victories at home.
The Bulldogs set the tone early in their most recent contest by opening up an 11-point lead over Alabama at the half, and while their advantage dipped to just three points midway through the second stanza, they hung on for the impressive victory. It was a poor field-goal shooting afternoon (.326), but they held Alabama to just 36.5 percent from the floor and outscored it at the free-throw line, 31-16. Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines both poured in 22 points, with Mann doing so on a busy day at the charity stripe (13-of-18) and Gaines draining 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Georgia has steadily outpaced its opponents this season, shooting 46.8 percent from the field for 71.2 ppg while allowing 68.4 ppg on 40.2 percent shooting. It also boasts an impressive +4.1 rebounding margin, but its lackluster free- throw percentage (.648) has been a detriment. Mann leads the way with 14.1 ppg on 46.5 percent from the field but has more turnovers (39) than assists (38). Gaines (12.2 ppg) and Nemanja Djurisic (10.5 ppg) also score in double figures on a nightly basis.
The Gators had their hands full on Saturday at Bud Walton Arena, one of the most difficult places to play in the country. After trailing by two in the waning seconds, they forced overtime on a Scottie Wilbekin bucket, and they took control in the extra session by opening up on an 11-3 run. They shot a modest 42.4 percent from the field and committed a game-high 17 turnovers but made up for it with nine 3-pointers and a solid showing at the foul line (25- of-34). Dorian Finney-Smith dominated in the paint with 22 points and 15 rebounds, Wilbekin poured in 18 points off the bench and Michael Frazier and Patric Young registered 15 and 10 points, respectively.
Florida's offense has been stellar all season long, as it shoots 46.4 percent from the field for 72.7 ppg, but it stands among the nation's elite thanks mostly to its stout defensive effort, allowing a mere 60.3 ppg on 39.8 percent shooting. The squad's leading scorer Casey Prather (17.0 ppg, .624 FG percentage) missed the Arkansas win with a bone bruise and is questionable for this contest. Wilbekin (12.9 ppg, 3.7 apg, 2.1 spg) is a spark plug on the perimeter and Frazier (11.9) has made 39-of-81 from 3-point range (.481). Young (11.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Finney-Smith (10.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg) are an imposing duo in the frontcourt.
Georgia has stepped up its play since entering SEC action, and things could get interesting if Prather is again unable to suit up for Florida, but the Gators have been so dominant at home that they should be able to dismiss the Bulldogs with or without him.
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