After an unusually busy 15-game pre-conference schedule the Florida Gators Basketball Team begins its quest for an SEC Championship Saturday at high noon. The Georgia Bulldawgs come to town a much-improved basketball team and a legit threat to win in the O’Connell Center. Dennis Felton’s fourth Georgia squad finally has some inside scoring punch to go with a talented, physical back court.
Georgia comes in with an eight-and-four record against a very competitive schedule. Georgia has wins over Gonzaga and Wake Forest on its resume along with tough losses to Clemson, Wisconsin and Georgia Tech. The biggest blot on the Bulldogs resume is a 70-67 loss to Western Kentucky, a team Florida walloped 101-68.
Sophomore swingman Mike Mercer leads the way with 16.3 points a game while grabbing 4.8 rebounds. Senior Sundiata Gaines plays much bigger than his 6’1” frame with a team-high 5.5 rebounds a night to go with 8.4 points. Add in Levi Stukes (13/2.6), Terrance Woodbury and Billy Humphrey and you have probably the deepest perimeter in the SEC.
Up front Florida has a huge advantage, but not as big as it’s been in the past. Georgia has added JUCO stud Takais Brown and the 6’8” big man has given the team a legit inside scoring threat. He’s averaging 14.7 points a night and along with Dave Bliss. Rashaad Singleton and Steve Newman give Georgia a better chance in the paint.
Saturday’s game will feature the two best shooting teams in the SEC through non-conference play. Florida leads the league in field goal shooting (.548) as well as shooting form three point range (.421). Georgia is right behind the Gators in both categories (.503/.416).
Billy Donovan on Georgia’s Improved Big Men
“I think the thing with their front court is that they’re a year older, that’s the first thing. They played with Newman and Bliss last year and Woodbury was hurt a lot. So they have a year under their belt, and that helps them. Then you add the presence inside of Brown who can score and rebound and you have a very deep team in the front court with some size and some strength.”
Donovan on the Physical Play of Georgia’s Backcourt
“I think they are maybe a little bit more physical than they have been in the past, especially with Gaines now being a junior. He’s got as much experience as anybody in the league at that position. Stukes is a guy they plugged in his first year and he basically has been a starter. But I’d say Gaines is as physical as any guard in this league and their entire back court is as physical as any in this league.”
Donovan on Georgia’s Schedule
“I think they’ve played as good a schedule as anyone in our conference up to this point in time. Playing Clemson, playing Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Gonzaga they’ve played some very good teams. “
Donovan on Gators’ Health
“Taurean just bumped knees (against Liberty) and there’s nothing lingering, no problems. I think Al (Horford) is on the path to pending and getting better. I think he’s feeling better and better each day and I think by the end of this week or early next week he’ll be back to or at least right around one hundred percent. He still has some soreness and stiffness in it (his ankle) after practice, which is normal. But overall health-wise I think we’re getting better which is a good thing.
Donovan on Team Goal of Winning the SEC
“I think every school in the country right now, whatever conference they’re a part of, that’s their goal right now. Everybody is starting over like it’s a new season and everything that’s happened in November and December is supposed to get you ready for your conference play. This conference returns as many starters as any conference in the country and you have to realize that for nine weeks once or twice a week you’re going to be in some serious battles. I think everybody has that as a goal, but you can get caught looking so far down the road. Right now the most important thing for us is playing Georgia.”
The Florida/Georgia basketball rivalry is the closest one in Gator history. Florida leads the series by an incredibly narrow margin (96-94). Billy Donovan is 13-and-7 against the ‘Dawgs with the Gators have won the last five meetings by an average of 14.4 points. The last meeting came in Gainesville last year when Joakim Noah went nuts scoring 37 points in a 77-66 win. The victory not only ended a three-game losing streak; it started the Gators on an eleven-game winning streak that ran right through the NCAA Tournament.