GAME NOTES: With an opportunity to move into the No. 1 spot in the next Top 25 poll, the second-ranked Florida Gators put their perfect SEC record on the line as they take on the Ole Miss Rebels in a conference clash at the Tad Smith Coliseum.
Billy Donovan's Gators bring an 18-game win streak into this contest. Florida topped Auburn at home on Wednesday, 71-66 to move to 13-0 in conference play. With Syracuse's loss to Boston College earlier in the week, Florida would probably gain the top spot in the national polls with a win here.
Andy Kennedy's Rebels are 16-10 overall, but conference play has proved to be a little more challenging, especially of late, with Ole Miss dropping three straight games, including opening a three-game homestand on Tuesday with a humbling 84-70 setback to nationally-ranked Kentucky.
The Gators hold a 61-43 series advantage over the Rebels, but Ole Miss won the last meeting, a 66-63 decision last March.
There isn't any secret in terms of Florida's successful campaign, as the team plays some of the best defense in the country. Foes are averaging just 58.3 ppg and shooting under 40 percent from the floor (.398). In addition, the Gators hold positives in both rebounding (+5.8) and turnover (+2.5) margins. While the team scores a modest 71.1 ppg, it is a balanced attack with four of the five starters averaging double figures. Forward Casey Prather leads the way with 15.7 ppg. Guards Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier add 13.6 and 12.7 ppg, respectively. Center Patric Young averages 10.7 ppg. Dorian Finney- Smith is the first player off the bench, adding 9.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
Auburn took Florida to the limit in Gainesville this week, taking an eight- point lead into the intermission, but the Gators rallied over the final 20 minutes to remain unbeaten in league play. Young led the way for Florida with 17 points. Prather just missed a double-double with 16 points and nine rebounds. Wilbekin finished with 15 points for Florida, which shot just 40 percent from the field.
The Rebels are shooting just .422 from the floor, but the offense is volume driven, with the team averaging over 60 field-goal attempts per game, resulting in a solid 76.0 ppg. Marshall Henderson epitomizes that, ranking third in the SEC in scoring at 19.4 ppg, despite shooting a mere .369 from the floor. Jarvis Summers has been far more efficient at a .490 clip and ranks eighth in the league at 17.0 ppg. Unfortunately, the scoring pool dries up fast after that, with LaDarius White representing the third leading scorer on the roster at just 7.9 ppg.
The Rebels fell behind early and although they pulled to within six points with under two minutes remaining, couldn't keep the momentum going in the 14- point loss to the Wildcats. Ole Miss shot just .387 from the floor in the game, but got 22 points from Summers. Anthony Perez poured in 21 points off the bench, while Henderson finished with 18.
The Gators are closing in on the conference crown and with a chance to ascend to the top spot in the Top 25, expect them to be sharp on both ends in yet another SEC victory.
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