GAME NOTES: The third-ranked Florida Gators will continue their three-game homestand on Tuesday night when they take on the Missouri Tigers in SEC action at the O'Connell Center.
Missouri had been winners of back-to-back games prior to its most recent bout at home with nationally-ranked Kentucky, which it dropped, 84-79. The Tigers are a stellar 16-5 overall this season but have had an up-and-down run in the SEC (4-4). They've held their own on the road, winning three of five.
Florida has been nothing short of outstanding on the campaign, going 19-2, tying its best 21-game start in program history, while staking claim to first place in the SEC with an 8-0 league ledger. The Gators had one of their most dominating wins of the season on Saturday versus Texas A&M, 69-36, to extend their school-record home winning streak to 27 games.
The teams met for the first time in last season's two-game series, with each side winning on its home floor.
The Tigers battled within single digits of Kentucky for most of their latest game, but while they brought their deficit to as little as three with under a minute remaining, they could never overtake the lead. They shot a stellar 52.9 percent from the field but were outpaced by the Wildcats, who made 53.6 percent of their tries from the floor. Jabari Brown shined in the setback with a career-high 33 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field and 10-of-12 at the free-throw line. Jordan Clarkson was also outstanding with 28 points.
Missouri has shown great balance on the season, as it outshoots its opponents from the field, 46.4 percent to 39.4 percent, while ranking in the top-six in the SEC in both scoring offense (75.0 ppg) and scoring defense (67.4 ppg). The team also boasts an impressive rebounding margin (+6.9) and free-throw percentage (.720). Brown's most recent outburst allowed him to make claim to the SEC scoring lead with 20.4 ppg, doing so on 50.8 percent from the field and 62-of-130 from 3-point range (.477). Clarkson acts as the go-to option on certain nights, putting up 18.9 ppg, while adding 3.4 apg and 1.3 spg as well. Rounding out one of the nation's best scoring trios is Earnest Ross with 14.2 ppg.
The Gators shot 41.1 percent from the field in their game over the weekend and outscored Texas A&M at the free-throw line, 18-4, but the biggest story of their 33-point victory was the excellent play of their defense, as they held A&M to a lowly 14-of-54 from the field (.259). Michael Frazier led the way with 21 points and Dorian Finney-Smith had 11 points and nine rebounds. Patric Young (14 rebounds) and Will Yeguete (10 rebounds) were also big factors in the squad's eye-popping 57-27 advantage on the glass.
Florida's defense has been making headlines all season long, as it yields just 57.4 ppg on 38.4 percent field goal shooting, with both numbers not only ranking tops in the SEC but in the top-10 nationally. The offensive attack, which puts up 71.2 ppg on 46 percent from the field, is led by Casey Prather with 16.2 ppg on greater than 62 percent shooting from the floor. Frazier (12.6 ppg) has drained 58 3-pointers at a 43.3 percent clip, while Scottie Wilbekin (11.9 ppg, 3.6 apg), Young (10.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Finney-Smith (10.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg) round out one of the country's deepest teams.
Brown and Clarkson are strong playmakers for Missouri, which should allow it to put a dent in Florida's stout defense, but it likely won't be enough to overtake the Gators and their dominant homecourt advantage.
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