Four score and seven years ago…
OK, it hasn’t been that long since the Missouri Tigers have lost a home game, but they are undefeated hosts this season. Fans at Mizzou Arena have not witnessed defeat since Feb. 21, 2012.
A raucous crowd awaits the Gators tonight, especially with the Tigers still smarting from a 31-point beat down and hungry for revenge.
How can Florida succeed where 14 of Missouri’s previous opponents have failed?
Let’s look at the 5 Keys that will again have the Tigers licking their wounds.
5) A Case of Amnesia: Missouri has not forgotten about the aforementioned pummeling but the Gators must. A confluence of factors contributed to Florida’s massive margin on January 19, not the least being intense and focused basketball. Still, the Gators benefited from a Tigers team still learning to play without Laurence Bowers as well as an electric home crowd and an uncharacteristic 10 turnovers from Phil Pressey. This time, Bowers is back and again leading his squad in scoring. The rowdy crowd will be that of Missouri and Pressey will not likely repeat his abysmal outing. Florida must forget about the team it played one month ago and mentally prepare for a far greater challenge. This indeed is a different Tigers team than previously faced — and a much different environment.
4) Pounce: Yeah, yeah — “pounce” is an act typically associated with Tigers, but it is exactly what Florida will need to do. In its seven losses, Missouri has trailed at halftime in all but one, and the average intermission deficit in the other six games has been nine points. Tigers coach Frank Haith has expressed frustration with this season’s squad, recently calling out players following an inexplicable loss to LSU and describing his team not being a “great listening” group and prone to being “distracted” when faced with adversity. Florida fans witnessed the proverbial wheels fall off for the Tigers when hit by an early Gators barrage. Florida would be well suited to again put the sometimes undisciplined and immature Tiger team under quick duress. Doing so may rekindle memories of last month, and undermine any confidence of a different result. It will also quiet the crowd.
3) Let It Fly: Some fans expressed concern over Florida’s recent reliance on the 3-point line after the Gators shot 30 of its 54 attempts from outside the arc in a win over Auburn. That, however, was hardly coincidental, but rather the exploitation of what the Auburn defense has failed to defend. This Tigers team is not much different, conceding the third most 3-pointers in the conference. Florida will definitely seek balance, but must not be afraid to “let it fly” from the arc. This is especially true off missed Missouri shots and in transition, where the Tigers have consistently been exposed.
2) Hold Your Own: Missouri sits atop the SEC in rebounding margin, boasting a whopping plus-10 per game average. Florida slips in just behind, with a plus-7 figure. Of course, we all know of Will Yeguete’s absence and Florida’s surprising success despite, but this outing will may magnify that personnel loss more than any prior. A month ago, Florida flipped Missouri’s rebounding advantage, putting the Tiger’s in a 10-board deficit. Yegeute accounted for six of those, including a few he turned into put-back baskets. His loss, coupled with the return of Bowers, make such an outcome unlikely in this second stanza. But Florida must, at least, “hold its own” on the glass. The Tigers are a highly efficient and potentially explosive offense that can’t be afforded second chances or long-rebound run outs. This will be a team effort, requiring Florida’s guards to pitch in. Young, however, will be key and may need to duplicate the 11-rebound performance he had versus Kentucky.
1)Avoid A Free Throw Contest: This one is quite simple but can not be understated. Florida must avoid a foul fest in Mizzou Arena — something that may be easier said than done. The Tigers are good at getting to the line, and even better at making ‘em. Missouri’s 392 points from the stripe rank second in the conference, while its 75 percent conversion rate leads the SEC. On the season, Alex Oriakhi has attempted an astounding 133 free throws — of which, he has made 84. The Tigers are assuredly well aware of Florida depth issues and will seek to put the Gators into foul trouble. Missouri’s ability to create interior fouls and convert, may present Florida with its greatest challenge of the game. If the Gators can keep its opponent off the free-throw stripe and its players off the bench — Round 2 should again go to Florida.