Tipoff is set for shortly after 6 p.m. CST at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla. Both Auburn and Florida have 9-6 overall records.
Florida is 2-0 in the SEC and Auburn is 1-1 following Saturday’s 85-79 victory vs. Missouri. Unbeaten Kentucky, which is 3-0 in the league and ranked No. 1 from sea to shining sea, is the only other SEC team with a clean slate in conference play.
Coach Bruce Pearl’s Tigers are still looking for their first victory of the season on an opponent’s homecourt after losing at Vandy in the league opener to extend that mark to 0-4 this season.
“We have a lot to play for,” Pearl says. “It is a very tough place to play, one of the toughest in the country. Florida will challenge you from the standpoint of the way they press, the way they turn you over, the effort that they play at.
“Florida plays as hard as anyone in the league,” Pearl adds of the Gators, who joined Kentucky as a Final Four team last season. “Billy Donovan’s always been, in my mind, one of the top two coaches in the league. It’s a great challenge.”
Florida’s starting lineup for its last game featured 6-8 junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith (14.1 points, 5.5 rebounds), 6-8 freshman forward Devin Robinson (6.2 points, 2.9 rebounds), 6-10 sophomore forward Chris Walker (5.8 points, 4.1 rebounds), 6-1 sophomore guard Kasey Hill (7.7 points, 2.1 rebounds) and 6-0 freshman guard Chris Chiozza (4.4 points, 1.9 rebounds).
Michael Frazier, who has not started in the SEC games, is a 6-4 junior guard who is averaging 13.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He set a school record last year for three-pointers in a season with 118 and is currently recovering from strep throat, but is expected to play vs. the Tigers.
Michael Frazier is the only returning from last season's Final Four team.
Commenting on Auburn’s team, Donovan says, “I think the misconception on that a lot is they play very, very fast, but once they get to half court they do a very, very good job of executing so in a lot of situations the shot clock is going to get down to 10, 12 seconds in a lot of ways because they’re going to run their offense.”
The Gator coach notes that both teams like to play fast so each will be looking to prevent fastbreak baskets on Thursday night. “When you’re playing against other teams in this league it’s a level of familiarity and teams get back in transition,” he says.
“A lot of times there’s longer possessions because the defenses are good at the halfcourt and I think Bruce’s teams have always been very, very comfortable having very, very long possessions so you know missed shots, made baskets, you’ve certainly got to get back, got to balance the floor because I think every team, not only Bruce’s team, but every team is looking to attack and push the ball in transition.”
The Series: Auburn holds an all-time 87-75 record vs. the Gators, who are 46-30 vs. the Tigers in games in Gainesville.
Close Call: The Gators have a seven-game winning streak vs. Auburn, but nearly saw that end last year in Gainesville. The Gators, who were ranked No. 2 nationally, took the lead with 20 seconds remaining and held on for a 71-66 victory. Tajh Shamsid-Deen led the Tigers in that February 19th, 2014 contest with 17 points while Chris Denson added 15 and K.T. Harrell scored 14 points.
No Sneaking Up?: Pearl says he believes this season’s Auburn team might garner the attention of the Gators more than last season’s AU squad did when they met in Gainesville late in the season.
“We’re not sneaking up on anybody,” Pearl says. “That’s one of the problems when you hired me. I’m not sneaking up on anybody. I’m a guy that people are going to want to beat as badly as they are going to want to beat anybody and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Game Coverage: The telecast will be on ESPN2 with Joe Tessitore doing the play-by-play with Sean Farnham as the analyst. The Auburn Network radio coverage of the contest is also available on Sirius channel 108 and XM 190.
Cinmeon Bowers has a been a regular in the starting lineup for the Tigers.
Bowers On the Boards: Junior forward Cinmeon Bowers leads the SEC and is sixth nationally in rebounds per game at 11.3. He has nine double-doubles this season for rebounds-points. He is 13th in the SEC in scoring at 13.7 points per game.
Up Next: The Tigers will make a quick turnaround with just one day to practice for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. CST home game vs. South Carolina.
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