Gators ignoring history on Thursday

The message from Billy Donovan this week has been about ignoring last year. The Gators cruised by Mississippi State in both games last season by an average of 30 points, including a 35-point win in Starkville. Donovan is convinced that Mississippi State is improved this year. The Bulldogs are 13-6 this season with a 3-3 record in conference play before hosting No. 3 Florida on Thursday at 7 p.m.

The Bulldogs start four sophomores that also are the team's top four scorers. All four players -- Colin Borchert, Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware -- benefitted from playing minutes and taking their lumps last season. They were forced to carry the Bulldogs, and it resulted in a 10-22 record.

The youth of the roster hasn't changed. The four sophomores still don't have the same experience as the starting lineup for No. 3 Florida with four seniors, but not many teams in the country do. The sophomores have improved, led by 6-3 guard Craig Sword with 13.9 points per game.

"I think they've got a really talented group of young guys," Billy Donovan said. "A lot of those guys were freshmen and absorbed a lot of minutes and didn't have a lot of experience in front of them. All those guys are better. There's probably no other way to get better than getting the level of experience that those guys had a year ago.

They've certainly played extremely well at home this year. I think (head coach Rick Ray has) a really, really good nucleus of four or five guys."

The Bulldogs are 11-1 inside Humphrey Coliseum this year with the lone loss coming to TCU early in the season. In Southeastern Conference play, Mississippi State has beaten Auburn, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

Donovan thinks the reason is Mississippi State's aggressiveness. They start a three-guard lineup with two athletic forwards that can all create defensive havoc and are "good steal guys." Donovan has prepared his team for changing defenses, as the Bulldogs will go from a 1-3-1 zone to a 2-3 zone to a man-to-man defense without a moment's notice.

"They're going to try to turn you over with some pressure," Donovan said. "They're a really, really good help defensive team. They rotate very, very well and they've got good speed and quickness out on the perimeter."

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