GAINESVILLE — The last time the SEC added two new basketball teams to the league, Florida went 1-1 in its first meeting with the schools (Arkansas and South Carolina in 1991). This afternoon, the Gators have a chance to do a little better.
Fresh off a 68-47 win at Texas A&M in their inaugural meeting as SEC foes, Florida returns home today to host new SEC member Missouri, hoping to maintain its undefeated conference record.
The No. 10 Gators will play in front of their first home sellout this season, but with a veteran lineup, the mantra is to keep it in perspective.
"That's cool," senior guard Mike Rosario said about the expected crowd. "It's going to be a great atmosphere, and we're going to be ready. But it's also another game, the next one, so we have to move on."
No. 17 Missouri is in search of its second win over a top-10 team this season but will have to earn that upset without senior forward Laurence Bowers, who sprained the MCL in his right knee on Jan. 8. Bowers scored in double figures in 13 of 14 games and leads the Tigers in scoring this season at 16.8 points a game, so his presence will be missed.
But even without Bowers, the Tigers are No. 1 nationally in rebounding (43.8 per game) and play an aggressive style that the banged-up Gators need to match.
"They are a big, strong physical team, and they rebound the ball very, very well," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I think a lot of times teams that are good rebounding teams are teams that get you into a lot of rotation. … Collectively you've got to do a really good job against them to rotationally block out and get to the inside of people."
Florida is playing primarily with seven players, four of which are nursing ongoing injuries and one, junior forward Casey Prather, who will miss today's game with a high ankle sprain. And the Gators are playing after a Thursday night game, which gives them one day of preparation.
"We have a lot of veteran guys who are used to it," said junior center Patric Young, who had 18 points and seven rebounds Thursday. "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."
Donovan said while UF won't be able to cover everything it would like to in just one day, one area of concern is Missouri junior guard Phil Pressey, who is averaging 13.8 points, 9.8 assists and 3.0 rebounds over the past six games.
"He's terrific at what he does," Donovan said. "I've always said the sign of a great player is they make other people around them better, and certainly he does that as well as anybody in the country."
"He's a very, very smart point guard, especially on the middle of the pick-and-rolls," Rosario added. "Pressey is so fast, so the one thing we're going to work on is containing the pick and roll and making him feel uncomfortable. And 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 the same mind-set on the defensive end."
The Gators expect Missouri to be prepared to battle this afternoon.
"They're going to come in fired up," Young said. "They believe they have a chance to win the conference just like we believe we have a chance to win the conference."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]