The Florida men’s basketball team will be looking for its third straight win on Thursday night when they welcome Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers.
The Tigers lead the overall series 87-75 but have had little success as of late. Under head coach Billy Donovan, the Gators are 20-4 in this series, having won 17 of the last 18 and the last seven in a row.
The Gators (9-6, 2-0) are coming into this match up fresh off a dominant victory over the Mississippi Bulldogs where the team never trailed. Despite missing big man Jon Horford the last two games, the Gators have been able to succeed thanks to redshirt juniors Eli Carter and Dorian Finney-Smith who have simply carried the team. Finney-Smith has led the team in scoring in two of their last three games and Donovan says his unselfishness has been instrumental for the team.
“He performs and plays better when he’s challenged. One thing I really respect about him is he’s really about as ultimate of a team guy as I’ve coached. He’s way more concerned about the team than himself.”
The one Gator that fans will be looking to see a resurgence from is junior shooting guard Michael Frazier II. Despite coming off the bench and putting up 17 against South Carolina just one week ago, Frazier contracted an upper respiratory infection and missed a few practices late last week. Because of his illness, the Gators sharpshooter came off the bench for the second game in a row, but struggled mightily against the Bulldogs on Saturday finishing with just six points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field. Against a more superior team in the Auburn Tigers, the hope is that the Gators will see the Frazier of old, and Donovan mentioned just what his junior has been going through with his illness.
“We didn’t practice yesterday, he was feeling better and the doctor put him on antibiotic. He really couldn’t even talk very much on Saturday and it was clear he wasn’t himself. I thought he looked physically and emotionally drained from being ill.”
The Tigers (9-6, 1-1) will be coming into this game fresh off a six point victory over the Missouri Tigers which gave Bruce Pearl’s squad its first win inside the SEC this season. Pearl’s first year with the Tigers didn’t exactly start the way he wanted with the team losing five of their first eight games. However, the Tigers have been able to turn their season around winning six of their last seven and Donovan boasted earlier this week about the kind of coach Pearl is and what he does well.
“I think the one thing Bruce has really done a good job of is promoting basketball. I think everybody is different in how they deal with those kind of things and I think for people who are looking for excitement and enthusiasm, he’s the guy that brings a lot of excitement and enthusiasm.”
The Tigers are led by a trio of upperclassmen all averaging over 13 points per game. Senior guard KT Harrell leads the bunch averaging 17 points per game, shooting just under 47 percent from the field. Fellow senior Antoine Mason is averaging just under 15 points per game and junior Cinmeon Bowers is averaging just under 14 points per game this season. The Tigers are shooting just 41.9 percent on the year but Donovan notes they are a very talented bunch and there are a couple of things his team must be aware of.
“I think Bruce’s teams have always been comfortable with having very long possessions. So missed shots, and made baskets you have to get back, you have to balance the floor because every team is going to be looking to attack and push the ball in transition.”
The Gators will be looking to keep the momentum on their side as conference play continues to heat up. Florida will have its chance to improve to 3-0 in the conference, which would put them in a tie with the Kentucky Wildcats at the top of the league standings. Redshirt junior Alex Murphy says the team will be looking to jump on the Tigers early.
“We want to play fast, we want to press, get more points off of turnovers, and I think we can get better. I think we can capitalize more and we’ve got some stuff in the press, the 1-3-1 and that’s really been a point of emphasis.”
Tipoff between the Gators and Tigers is set for 7pm. Hear the game live on Country 103-7 The Gator starting at 6:25 pm.
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