It’s not the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, but tonight’s matchup on the hardwood between Florida (13-8, 5-3 SEC) and Georgia (12-9, 2-6 SEC) still carries great importance as the SEC season reaches its median for both teams.
On Superhero Night at the O’Connell Center, UF will look to fend off what has been its kryptonite in recent seasons.
The Bulldogs have beaten the Gators three out of the last four times in the series, including the last time the two teams met in Gainesville.
Last March, a lowly Georgia team with a 1-14 record in conference play nearly ended Florida’s in hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid behind the performance of one player: Nicolas Claxton (25 points, three blocks, two assists).
Georgia’s built to do similar damage in this rendition of the rivalry, with future NBA Lottery pick Anthony Edwards in the starting lineup.
Besides him, the Bulldogs have some glaring holes that the Gators will need to exploit to avoid their third-straight home loss of the season.
Stopping UGA’s one-two punch: UF’s defense will be challenged by tandem of Edwards and Hammonds
Coach Mike White was asked during his media availability on Monday about the challenges a talent like Edwards brings to opposing teams' defenses.
Averaging 19.3 points per game, second-most in the SEC, White realizes the chances of shutting him down are slim to none.
“No. Oh, he’s going to take his,” White said. “What a talent. One of the best talents that I’ve ever witnessed in this league at his age. He’s tremendous. And Tom (Crean) does a good job of putting him in space and letting him do what he does.”
When — and if — Edwards is contained, the Bulldogs have another weapon at their disposal.
Six-foot-9 forward Rayshaun Hammonds is the only other Georgia player averaging double figures at 12.5 points per game, and he has enough talent to give his opponent a tough night in the trenches if they let him. Hammonds has scored in double figures 13 times this season and averages 7.6 rebounds per game to lead the team.
UF guard Scottie Lewis and forward Keyontae Johnson will be the players primarily tasked with the challenge of defending Edwards throughout the night, but White said it would be a committee approach.
Despite the conundrum of how to properly contain Georgia’s best player, Florida is excited about the opportunity to face the former No. 1 recruit.
“Yeah, yeah, they definitely do,” guard Noah Locke said, referring to his teammates’ desire to guard Edwards. “I mean we started the scouting report yesterday and, I mean, guys are riled up for it. We’re ready to just, you know, guard him and be the best we can.”
The X-factor: Locke’s three-point performance helps UF’s offense
Locke’s prowess from beyond the arc is something Florida needs each game to help take some of the pressure off guys like Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Omar Payne, among others, inside the three-point line.
Last Saturday against Vanderbilt, Locke went 5 of 8 from three, including a dagger that extended the lead to three possessions with just over two minutes left.
The Bulldogs are ranked 145th in the NCAA in three-point percentage defense; because of this, Locke and others should get some clean looks from three-point land.
“I feel like I shoot my best when I’m not worrying about my last shot,” Locke said. “I was just usually doing what I do, just getting open and just shooting my regular shot and just having confidence that it’s going in.”
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