Missouri's big guards present a challenge

Missouri brings a three-guard lineup to Gainesville on Tuesday with a trio taller than all but one of the guards on No. 3 Florida's roster. It's a new challenge for a Florida defense that leads the Southeastern Conference. Containing the Missouri backcourt, which combines to average 53.5 points, will make or break Tuesday's outcome for Florida.

Missouri guards Jabari Brown (20.4 ppg), Jordan Clarkson (18.9 ppg) and Earnest Ross (14.2 ppg) are all listed at 6-5. DeVon Walker, who is expected to play off Florida's bench with a hip pointer, is the only guard for the Gators (19-2/8-0 SEC) that is listed at 6-5 or taller.

It's a difficult matchup, but the Gators bottled up Tennessee's 6-6 guard Jordan McRae for one of the worst games of his career last weekend. The goal is to duplicate that performance on Tuesday at 9 p.m.

"They have very, very big guards," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "You could play really good defense and a guy like Jabari Brown, with his size, or Ross, at his size, even Clarkson at the point guard spot is 6-4, 6-5. They have the ability to shoot over top of people even when you're on them. I think that's what makes them such a tough cover.

"I would say from an offensive perspective, there is not a trio in the country more talented and gifted than them."

The Missouri (16-5/4-4 SEC) trio of guards average 53.5 points per game, a number Florida hasn't allowed to an entire team over the last three games. Despite that, Donovan still wants more out of his defense. The Gators held Texas A&M to 36 points, Mississippi State to 51 points and Tennessee to 41 points in the last three games.

However, the tape still shows lapses. Donovan showed his team their defensive breakdowns on tape, but the Gators got away with them during the game because the opposition missed shots. That's not likely to be the case on Tuesday in the O'Connell Center against the hot-shooting Tigers.

"We could play unbelievable defense and these guys have the ability to really make shots against really good defense because they're that talented," Donovan said. "Jabari Brown is shooting 57 percent — that's hard to do in a gym with nobody guarding you. He's getting everybody's attention. Everybody understands what he's been doing. He's getting over 23 a game. He's done it against great defenses and people that put an emphasis and a focus on him. I think that's a tribute to him offensively how good and talented he is."

The Gators have an ace defender on the perimeter in senior Scottie Wilbekin, but he can only guard one player. Michael Frazier's defense has improved this season, and small forward Casey Prather will have to cover one of the three guards after tip off.

Even with Wilbekin's reputation as a defender, the Gators don't want to become too dependent on him to slow down Missouri's scoring.

"We won't put it on just Scottie, him being our best on-ball defender," Florida center Patric Young said. "It's our team effort. And hopefully we can come out there as locked in and focused as we were against Texas A&M and just keep striving to improve and strive for greatness."

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