Third-ranked Florida (18-2, 7-0 SEC) got a win on the road at Mississippi State Thursday night and while any win away from home is a good win in the Southeastern Conference, Billy Donovan knows the Gators better play better Saturday when Texas A&M (12-8, 3-4 SEC) comes to Gainesville to kick off a three-game home stand at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center (4 p.m., SEC TV).
The Gators, who have won 12 games in a row and 26 straight at the O-Dome, are coming off a 62-51 win against Mississippi State, a game in which they played well in spurts but not with the kind of consistency that Donovan wants to see from his team.
“I didn’t think we played great yesterday,” Donovan said Friday at the Florida basketball complex. “Hopefully that in itself is an opportunity for us to grow and get better. I thought we played pretty well in the game against Tennessee here at home [last Saturday]. We had three days, four days before our last game at Mississippi State. I thought at times we played really, really well in the game at both ends of the floor. And then there were some times I thought we played really, really poorly. So we’ve got a lot of room to grow and get better, and we need to play better tomorrow than we did on Thursday night.”
Against Mississippi State the Gators struggled at times offensively. They missed wide open 3-point shots and too many chippies on the inside. When the Gators took a 27-18 lead on the Bulldogs with a little more than five minutes to go in the half, they had some chances to deliver a knockout blow from the 3-point line but Michael Frazier missed three consecutive 3-pointers and Scottie Wilbekin had one that did everything but go down.
“I thought we had some decent looks, especially to close out the half,” Donovan said. “I thought we had Frazier on three really good looks; Scottie had a great look, ball didn’t go down and I wasn’t totally disappointed. It was one of those games on the road where we didn’t make maybe the number of shots we had a chance to.”
The Gators found their offensive groove in the second half when they were able to get things going both inside and out. Casey Prather and Patric Young set the tone with six straight points to open the second half and late in the game, Frazier knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers to atone for an 0-6 start.
Maybe the offense was inconsistent, but defensively the Gators got better as the game wore on. Craig Sword, Mississippi State’s leading scorer, was held in check with only 12 points, and Fred Thomas, who had been scoring at an 11.0 clip the previous four games, was held scoreless. Gavin Ware, the Bulldogs’ 6-9, 265-pound center, managed only six.
“I thought our defense as the game wore on, got better and better, and we obviously I think held them to 19 or 20 points, 21 points in the second half which was a good job by us,” Donovan said.
Texas A&M comes to Gainesville reeling. After starting the SEC portion of their season 3-0 including a win on the road at Tennessee and a home win over Arkansas, the Aggies have lost four straight, but Donovan believes this is a very dangerous team.
“I think they’re a very good team,” Donovan said. “They have a lot of different pieces. (Jamal) Jones is as good a player as there is in this league. (Kourtney) Roberson for them is a veteran frontcourt player, he’s been in the league for a long, long time. (Alex) Caruso’s a year older now, leading the league in assists. They have very, very good personnel.”
Jones comes into the game averaging 11.7 points per game while Roberson has been fairly consistent, averaging 9.7 points and a team-leading 7.0 rebounds per game. Caruso plays the most minutes for the Aggies and he is their do-it-all guy, averaging 8.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game.
GAME NOTES: Florida’s 12-game winning streak is the seventh longest streak in school history. All those streaks have come on Billy Donovan’s watch … Florida is 4-0 on the road in the SEC this season. Every other team in the league has lost at least two roadies … Florida is off to a 7-0 start in the SEC. The school record is 11 straight to start the SEC portion of the schedule, set in 2007 … Opponents have shot only 7-45 from the 3-point line against the Gators in the last three games … Casey Prather has scored in double figures in all 18 games he has played this season. He leads the Gators in scoring at 16.7 per game and he’s shooting an SEC-best 62.6% from the field … Florida went unbeaten (8-0) in the month of January … Five Gators are scoring in double figures: Prather (16.7); Wilbekin (12.2); Frazier (12.2); Young (10.7) and Dorian Finney-Smith (10.3) … Finney Smith is Florida’s leading rebounder, averaging 7.8 per game.
TEXAS A&M (12-8, 3-4 SEC): Alex Caruso (6-5, 183, SO); Shawn Smith (6-4 ,192, RFR); Jamal Jones (6-8, 197, RJR); Antwan Space (6-8, 224, RJR); Kourtney Roberson (6-9, 244, JR)
FLORIDA (18-2, 7-0 SEC): Will Yeguete (6-8, 230, SR); Casey Prather (6-6, 212, SR); Patric Young (6-9, 240, SR); Scottie Wilbekin (6-2, 176, SR); Michael Frazier (6-4, 199, SO)