With Ben Simmons in the rearview mirror until Florida and LSU meet again on Feb. 27, the Gators will hit the road for the first of two consecutive Southeastern-Conference matchups.
Florida travels to College Station, Texas, for a matchup with No. 15 Texas A&M tonight at 7 in Reed Arena. This will be the Gators’ fourth game this season against a top-25 opponent. So far, they are 0-3.
And this contest will be no easier.
The Aggies have won six games in a row and are 13-2 including an SEC-best 3-0 conference record. They boast the conference's second-best field-goal percentage at 47.3 percent — behind only No. 14 Kentucky — along with the third-best three-point percentage at 38.3 percent.
Florida (10-5, 2-1 SEC) ranks last in the conference in both of those categories.
TAMU freshman center Tyler Davis is averaging 11.1 points per game and leads the SEC in field-goal percentage (67.8). Senior forward Jalen Jones is another intimidating force down low for the Aggies. Jones scores a team-best 16.8 points per game and is also the team’s leading rebounder, grabbing 6.6 boards per game.
In its last game away from home, Florida was throttled by Tennessee, another dangerous conference team. But if the Gators have shown anything so far this year, it’s that they can make life difficult for high-scoring teams by playing strong defense.
UF coach Mike White said the team has also learned a lot about how to handle away-game environments while maintaining a high level of intensity.
"The biggest thing that we learned, if you look at our road games against the best opponents, the highest of quality opponents that we’ve played, our best performance was against (then-No.1) Michigan State," White said.
"That was a game we simply battled. We played as hard as any game we’ve played all year. That’s the intensity we’ll have to match, most importantly, before we talk about doing anything else."
Florida’s offense is the "anything else." Although the Gators have struggled to shoot the basketball, there have been recent signs of improvement and development within the offense.
Junior forward Justin Leon has stepped up since being inserted into the starting lineup Jan. 2 against Georgia. Leon has shot 63.2 percent from the field in the last three games in which he’s started, including a career-best 14 points in Florida’s win over LSU on Saturday.
"Justin Leon is Justin Leon," White said. "That’s what he is. He doesn’t have the most God-given ability on our team, but he’ll continue to be a blue-collar worker for us."
So as the Gators head to the Lone Star State, they’ll try to bring that blue-collar mentality with them.
They face a well balanced, offensively-sound Texas A&M team with a lot of weapons that sits atop the SEC standings.
As redshirt junior DeVon Walker said, Florida can’t back down.
"They’re a very, very good team," Walker said of the Aggies.
"The only way that we will have a chance is if we come out and throw the first punch and we go out there aggressive in everything that we do."
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