Gators preparing for the Bulldogs

The stat sheet from Mississippi State's previous game says it all. The Bulldogs turned the ball over 29 times against Arkansas on Wednesday in Fayetteville, Ark. Florida's suffocating defense heads to Starkville for Saturday's game after holding opponents to less than 50 points in nine of 17 games this season. The Gators want to continue to create havoc with their defense Saturday night.

"Hopefully we can turn them over a little bit," Florida forward Will Yeguete said with a laugh.

The trends would show that as a distinct possibility for Florida. Mississippi State has turned the ball over 20+ times in two of their last three games. The Gators continue to get after teams with their full court press after made baskets. When they get in the half court defense, the defense continues to be elite.

The Gators head into Saturday with the third best scoring defense in the country, allowing 51.4 points per game after holding Georgia to 47 points on Wednesday.

The defense travels on the road. Even when the Gators struggled to shoot from the field in the first half, the defense was still there to help them stay in the game and trial only by three at halftime. The Gators then outscored Georgia by 20 in the second half to run away with a win.

In front of a road crowd, good defense can always help the road team in a tough environment.

"The home team is always more comfortable with their surroundings," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "The home crowd is always an extra benefit. We've played in some pretty hostile environments."

The Gators are used to seeing that in conference play. Saturday night will be the fourth road game out of the first six games in Southeastern Conference play this year for Florida. After getting back to Gainesville early Thursday morning, the Gators got to practice twice before leaving for Starkville on Friday. The constant turnaround is one Florida is ready to be done with.

The challenge this weekend is preparing for a team under first-year head coach Rick Ray. It's a different look for the Bulldogs.

"Coach Ray, I've got a lot of respect for the way his teams play," Donovan said. "They're very aggressive and play very hard. They've got a lot of depth in the backcourt. They play extremely hard. It's another road game for our guys."

The early preparation for the Gators was focused on what Mississippi State does on defense. Ray wants to switch around the different defensive looks to try keeping the opponent's offense off balance.

"Coach D said defensively they're really good because they switch defenses a lot," Yeguete said. "They'll play 2-3 zone and a 1-3-1. It's going to be a different kid of team we haven't faced yet."

The Bulldogs are led by junior guard Jalen Steele, who is averaging 10.4 points and 3.1 rebounds. The former two-star prospect in high school has turned into a good shooter for Mississippi State.

"A really good shooter and veteran in the backcourt," Donovan said. "He's a veteran that has played in a lot of games, and I'm sure he's providing a lot of leadership for their guys. He has always been a guy that can change the game because of his ability to shoot the basketball.

"He can do it off the dribble and do it off the catch. He's also got the ability to get in the lane and create to make things happen."

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