Missouri hits the road
Will play tonight at Florida
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
COLUMBIA — The Missouri Tigers didn’t have a lot of time to reflect after falling to one of the top teams in the country.
And their schedule certainly didn’t get any easier.
After suffering an 84-79 loss to No. 11 Kentucky on Saturday, Missouri (16-5, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) will look to bounce back against one of the nation’s best when the Tigers meet the No. 3 Florida Gators (19-2, 8-0 SEC) at 8 p.m. today (ESPN-TV) at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.
“They’re a great team,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said Monday. “They’ve got great personnel, they play great defense, they execute on offense. They could cut down the nets.
“I felt the same way after playing Kentucky, (with) the way they played against us. We got two teams in our league (that) easily could be one of the two best teams in the country.”
Florida has won 27 consecutive home games, the third longest active streak, and is off to its third 19-2 start in program history — the other two times coming in 2006 and 2007 when the Gators won back-to-back national titles.
Missouri, which is 3-2 on the road this season, is aware of what Florida is capable of. But the Tigers don’t plan on shying away from the Gators, who’s last loss came Dec. 2 at then No. 12-ranked Connecticut.
“They’re a good team, all-around,” Missouri guard Earnest Ross said. “If we just come out and play hard, I think we can compete with anybody in the country. I think that’s what we’re heading to do down in Gainesville — just play our game and do what we do.
“This is a great opportunity to go down to Florida and try to get a win on the road.”
Today will mark just the third time Missouri and Florida have met. The Gators rolled to a 31-point win at home the first time, before the Tigers claimed a 63-60 victory at Mizzou Arena. Florida made it as far as the Elite Eight for the third straight season before falling to Michigan 79-59.
“(Florida) has really good toughness, they have great experience, and I think its better than last year’s team — definitely from the defensive standpoint,” Haith said.
Getting teams to force up shots is something the Gators “thrive on,” noted Haith, who is 10-5 against Top 25 opponents and 5-3 against Top 10 teams as the head coach at Missouri.
Florida’s scoring defense ranks sixth in the nation at 57.4 points per game, the fewest amount allowed in the SEC, and has held 12 opponents to 61 points or fewer this season.
“They play really good team defense,” Missouri guard Jabari Brown said. “You got to pick and choose your shots.”
Brown finished with a career-high 33 points, while Jordan Clarkson added 28 to become the top scoring duo in a power conference this year in the loss to Kentucky.
Brown is now averaging 20.4 points per game, which ranks No. 22 nationally and is fourth among high-major conference players.
“He’s worked so hard to be a consistent player and I think he’s become that,” Haith said. “I said this the other night after the game, ‘I don’t know if there’s enough buzz about Jabari Brown.’ You look at what he’s doing, his numbers — I don’t want to jinx him, but he’s playing unbelievable basketball right now.”
Brown has tallied 20 points or more in six consecutive league outings and is averaging 25.8 points on 60.3 percent shooting from the field and 65.7 percent shooting from behind the arc during that stretch.
Not that any of that matters to Brown. The 6-foot-5 junior is more concerned about wining basketball games rather than keeping his hot streak alive.
“I’m just trying to get a win,” he said. “As long as we win, that’s what matters.”
The Tigers will also have to do their part to slow down a Florida offense that is ranked eighth in the league, averaging 71.2 points per game.
The Gators have five players averaging double figures in Casey Prather (16.2 ppg) Michael Frazier (12.6), Scottie Wilbekin (11.9), Patrick Young (10.6) and Dorian Finney-Smith (10.3).
“Any guy could have a big night,” Brown said. “You can’t really key in on certain guys as much. I think that’s just a credit to their versatility as a team.”
Freshman forward Chris Walker, a 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American, will also suit up for his first collegiate game. Walker was recently cleared to play after the NCAA looked into his eligibility, eventually ruling he received preferential treatment from five people, including two agents.
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