Despite a loss to Kentucky last Saturday, Florida men’s basketball coach Billy Donovan saw his team dig deep and fight. He said “it was the first time I’ve felt in 23 games we played to win.”
Florida (12-11, 5-5) played inspired basketball against the number one ranked team in the country but ultimately couldn’t hit enough shots and free throws to shock the Wildcats.
They’ll have a shot to redeem themselves when they host Ole Miss (16-7, 7-3) at the O’Connell Center on Thursday night.
Donovan will likely be without the services of junior shooting threat Michael Frazier II, who’s recovering from a high ankle sprain sustained against Kentucky. Frazier leads the team in scoring with 13.2 points per contest.
Frazier was a big factor in the Gators’ loss to Ole Miss earlier this year. He dropped 27 points and shot 6-for-8 from behind the arc in the 72-71 loss in Oxford.
“It’s not one guy that’s going to have to make up for a player like Michael. It’ll have to be some other guys to contribute and help,” said Donovan on Monday. “And hopefully, guys like Devin Robinson and (Chris) Chiozza, certainly for them on the perimeter, will have a little bit more of an opportunity if Michael’s not playing.”
Florida will look to make up for Frazier’s production while containing a Rebel offense that averages 74.3 points per game (tied for second in the SEC).
Ole Miss boasts a talented trio led by point guard Jarvis Summers. The senior is averaging 13.1 points and 4.3 assists per game. Back in January, Summers led the Rebels with 16 points and eight assists in a win over the Gators.
“The thing with Summers I’ve always admired and respected was I think great players make people around them better so you can try to take Summers out offensively by trying to trap him and do those kinds of things but at the end of the day, between (Ladarius) Snoop White and (Stefan) Moody and a lot of other guys that they have in the front-court, it’s leaving those guys open and that’s why they’re a balanced, well-scoring team,” Donovan added.
Moody leads the Rebels in scoring with 15.5 points per game. After scoring only six points in their win against Florida, Moody is averaging 17.8 points in their last four contests.
White rounds out the Ole Miss “Big 3” in a sixth man role; he averages 11.4 points off the bench.
While Ole Miss may not currently be a ranked team right now, Florida has an opportunity to win against a quality opponent and snap the Rebels’ current five-game win streak.
But in order to get back to their winning ways, the Gators will have to stay engaged for 40 minutes. In their first meeting this season, Florida surrendered a seven point lead before falling.
“They want to play well and when they don’t play well, it drains them,” Donovan said, referring to his team’s mentality at times. “They’re not internally fighting and competing to play, to win. As a coach, you’re trying to get them to understand at this level if you don’t have that (internal fight), it’s really hard to win.”
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and listeners can catch coverage of the game on Country 103.7 the Gator starting at 6:25 p.m.
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