Florida knows the challenge Auburn brings

Billy Donovan didn't have to spend this week convincing his team that they were getting ready to face a challenge on Wednesday in the O'Connell Center. The Gators saw it firsthand just over four weeks ago at Auburn. Florida was challenged for 40 minutes before securing a 68-61 win over the Tigers, and they're preparing to be challenged again.

The challenge Auburn presents comes in its two-headed scoring attack in the backcourt. Guards Chris Denson and K.T. Harrell come into Wednesday night averaging 40.1 points, and they combined for 39 points when the Gators traveled to Auburn last month.

Stopping them is the issue. Auburn doesn't do much in the paint, relying on Denson and Harrell to get their points in different ways. Opposing teams don't know how their points will come, and it's what makes Auburn coach Tony Barbee's team difficult to prepare for. The Tigers move both players around the court and are creative in how they get them the ball and allow them to score.

"Denson and Harrell," Scottie Wilbekin said when asked what he remembers from the first meeting. "I can't remember how many points they had against us last time, but I know they got off a little bit. They're capable of going off with big nights, both of them. We've got to do a better job this game on limiting their straight-line drives and just playing better on-ball defense."

Between the two, Harrell is more of a three-point shooter, shooting 36.7 percent (51-139) from distance this season. But Denson still has the range. He's shooting 26.9 percent (18-67) this season, as he hit two early three-pointers against the Gators.

"Tony has done a really good job of putting Denson and Harrell in really difficult situations to defend those guys with the way they can score, put it down on the floor and shoot threes," Billy Donovan said. "It becomes very challenging and difficult to deal with those guys."

Donovan also pointed out that too much attention to Denson and Harrell can open things up in the paint for the Tigers, even if it isn't their strength. Senior center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, despite being listed at 7-0, is averaging just 5.3 points and 5.9 rebounds. The other big man, senior forward Allen Payne, is only 6-6, 225 pounds.

Florida should have a significant edge in the paint, but it all hinges on the big men not getting out of position and trying to lend extra help on Denson and Harrell.

"When you do give those guys too much attention, it opens up offensive rebounding for Dixon-Tatum, Payne and their front court players," Donovan said.

The Tigers have also won four of their last six games, with the two losses coming against two of the best teams in the conference in Kentucky and LSU. Auburn lost by eight at LSU and hung with Kentucky for the entire game before falling eight points.

"They are playing really good basketball," Donovan said. "They've played everybody tough at home, it's not just us. They had a lead against Kentucky there in the second half. They beat Alabama at home. They just beat Mississippi State at home and scored 92 points. This is a team that has played very well and is giving itself a chance, whether it's home or away. They've played very good basketball."

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