Gators Kick Off SEC Season vs. Ole Miss

The Gators open SEC play Saturday night in the O'Connell Center when they host Ole Miss. Preseason All-SEC guard Chris Warren, an Orlando native who wanted to play for Florida when he graduated from Dr. Phillips High School, leads the Rebels in points and rebounds. This will be Warren's final game against the Gators.

"I watched him play in high school a lot," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "He's had an incredible career. He's got quickness, can shoot threes and will finish at the rim. He is certainly a concern. He's one of the better guards in the league."

Warren leads the SEC by shooting 94.1% (80-85) from the free throw line. He is physical around the basket and not afraid to handle contact and finish. Warren is 1-2 against the Gators, sneaking out an 89-87 win over the Gators in Oxford in 2008. That win was the only time the Rebels have beaten Florida in the last nine years.

Florida forward Chandler Parsons remembers watching Warren play in high school. Parsons went to Lake Howell, which is also located about 30 minutes away from Dr. Phillips.

"I'm sure he's fired up," Parsons said. "I know he wanted to come to Florida in high school, and he's averaging 18 points per game now. I'm sure this is a big game for him."

The scoring doesn't stop with Warren. The second and third leading scorers for the Rebels also come from guards, in Zach Graham and Trevor Gaskins respectively. Graham is a 6-6, 210-pound senior that creates matchup problems because of his size and shooting ability. Gaskins comes off the bench and provides instant offense.

The guards play good perimeter defense, but the inside is where Florida can take advantage. Vernon Macklin made his presence felt in this game last season when he put up 22 points. The Rebels tried to guard him with one player to start the game last year, and Macklin got eight points in the first 10 minutes.

They changed the strategy and tried to double Macklin, but he got the rest of his points from offensive rebounds and from guards driving and passing to Macklin for a dunk.

Donovan expects Ole Miss to double the big men early in the game, which would make Macklin's ability to pass the ball become important.

"Vernon has to realize this could be a game where, when he does catch the ball, he makes good decisions to pass," Donovan said.

On the perimeter defensively, the Gators will see a unit similar to what they experience when playing Kansas State. Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy wants his team to deny every pass possible and make it difficult for the Gators to get anything easy.

"They're going to be a lot out of the Bob Huggins or Frank Martin pressure defense," Donovan said. "They'll be physical, aggressive, and they'll get after us. We have to do a good job handling the ball against them."

The Gators went 6-0 against the West last season. Since 2000, Florida is 50-16 against the West and 29-4 against them in the O'Connell Center.

This year could be different. Donovan sees improvements from the Rebels. The talent level is still high, but they are playing on both ends like a unit.

"Last year, they had a lot of talented individual players and were dealing with some chemistry and trying to make it all fit together," Donovan said. "It looks to me like they've settled into their roles. They're a cohesive group and playing well. They've gotten better as their season has gone on."


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