After rolling Texas A&M 68-47 on Thursday night, the No. 10 Gators returned to Gainesville on Friday for their single day off before hosting No. 17 Missouri at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
The short turnaround time grants the Gators little to time to prepare for the talented Tigers squad, and according to Florida coach Billy Donovan, the Gators will find have to limit their preparation to the absolute essentials.
“The one thing you have to do is really, really take the things that we have to get through, get done,” Donovan said on Friday. “It’s a pretty quick turnaround, after today playing [tomorrow] at 2, but I think it’s a great challenge for our team against a team that’s clearly a terrific and explosive offensive team with a lot of different weapons.
“I don’t think you’re going to be able to cover everything and get through everything in the amount of time, but certainly there’s gonna be key things that they do that we’re gonna have to address and try to handle as best we can.”
The Thursday-Saturday schedule is nothing new to most of Florida’s contributors as the Gators had two such swings last season. According to junior center Patric Young, the team feels well equipped to handle the strain of having to play two tough games in such a short amount of time.
“We have a lot of veteran guys who are used to it,” Young said. “We’ll take care of our bodies and make sure we get our rest. When the ball is tipped, we’ll be ready. There won’t be any excuses.”
On Thursday, Young had what was arguably his best game of the season, finishing with 18 points and 7 rebounds in the Gators’ win. According to Donovan, there are a few changes in which Young has made which have directly correlated to his improved play this season.
“Pat played well,” Donovan said. “He gave us a really, really good effort. I think like anything else, the biggest thing with young people is consistency — if you can consistently do that game in, and game out. I think with Patric, his practice habits this year have been much, much better than they were a year ago and I think that’s a direct correlation to why he’s been more consistent this year.”
While Young’s play will certainly draw the attention of Missouri’s physical front line which includes UConn-transfer Alex Oriakhi, the Gators themselves will have their own eyes on Mizzou guard Phil Pressey, who was named the SEC’s Preseason Player of the Year.
Although the Tigers will miss their leading scorer against Florida — Laurence Bowers (16.8 ppg), who is nursing a sprained MCL — Pressey has continued to pace Mizzou this season with his stellar passing ability (No. 7 nationally with 7.3 assists per game), as well as his penchant for getting to the hoop (12.9 ppg).
The Gators’ defense has been a major story this season, as the group has not only been able to hold eight teams to under 50 points, but has also done a remarkable job against opponents’ leading scorers including UGA’s Kentavious Caldwell Pope, and A&M’s Elston Turner.
According to Donovan, UF will need a performance in line with those in the past in order to contain the ever-dangerous Pressey on Saturday.
“[Pressey’s] terrific at what he does,” Donovan said. “A sign of a great player is a player that can make other people around him better and certainly he does that as well as anybody in the country … he really is a terrific player and a guy you enjoy watching on tape.”
Senior guard Mike Rosario, who led the Gators with 19 points against A&M on Thursday agreed with his coach’s assessment of Pressey.
“A very, very smart point guard, especially on the middle pick-and-rolls and wing pick-and-rolls,” Rosario said. “Pressey is so fast, so the one thing we’re going to work on in practice is containing the pick-and-roll and making him feel uncomfortable … We have to get prepared for Missouri’s pressure. They’re similar to us. They want to play up-tempo. So we have to bring this mindset on the defensive end.”
If the Gators do manage to capture the victory tomorrow, the win will mark No. 400 for Donovan, who currently stands at 399-160 as Florida’s coach. Despite the significance of the milestone, Donovan was quick to downplay the potential achievement.
“I really don’t necessarily focus on that or think about that kind of stuff,” Donovan said. “I always think if you’re at a place for a long period of time, it’s generally because you’ve been fortunate enough to coach good players … That number to me is not necessarily my number, I think it’s more the number of the guys that have been here that I’ve had the chance to coach. “
Even without the potential of win No. 400 being collected at the O’Connell Center on Saturday, the buzz around the game is already quite immense. The clash of two top-25 teams who run similar up-tempo styles was enough for fans to snatch up every single ticket for Saturday’s game, as the contest has been announced as a sellout.
With an exuberant and very loud crowd expected to be on hand, the Gators are pumped to return to the O’Dome for only their second home game in the new year.
“[The sellout’s] cool,” Rosario said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere and we’re going to be ready.”
It’s been a while since the O’Dome has hosted two teams of this magnitude, and Young believes the Tigers will be feeding off of the moment in the same fashion the Gators will.
“[Missouri’s] going to come in fired up. They believe they have a chance to win the conference just like we believe we have a chance to win the conference.”