As junior Noah Locke finished through the contact to put the Gators up 14, he screamed in celebration and embraced his teammates, defining the passionate and energetic performance that powered UF to a 75-49 victory over Tennessee Tuesday night.
After a string of subpar performances left Florida 3-3 in conference play, Florida had an additional challenge against the No.8 Volunteers as a pregame announcement that junior Colin Castleton would be ineligible to play.
But where there’s a will there’s a way, and UF demonstrated that desire from the opening tip, defending in a full court press and forcing 11 steals straight through to the post-game, champagne-fueled celebrations.
Emotion and champagne is a dangerous cocktail that inevitably leads to a hangover, so the Gators will have to avoid a trap game against a resurgent Georgia team.
After waltzing through a Charmin-soft non-conference schedule, Georgia’s momentum was clotheslined by conference opposition, starting the SEC with four consecutive losses. The Bulldogs have won their last two games, traveling down Dixie to best Ole Miss before a P.J. Moore layup at the buzzer helped Georgia stun Kentucky 63-62 Wednesday night.
A win on Saturday is important in escaping mid-table congestion in the SEC and avoiding any blemishes before a looming Selection Sunday.
Castleton and sophomore Scottie Lewis are game-time decisions, a pair of important but ultimately manageable absences after center Omar Payne curbed his rocky start against Rocky Top Tuesday.
The former four-star recruit finally lived up to his billing against the Volunteers, scoring an efficient nine points while collecting five rebounds and blocking five shots in 27 minutes of play.
Florida has generally been able to thrive down low against more diminutive lineups, and Georgia is as short as they come, ranking 294th in height, according to KenPom.
Georgia has consistently struggled guarding inside the arc, ranking 261th in two-point shooting percentage. The Gators have been hot and cold since from behind the arc, so UF should look to establish Payne and any available front court players early against Georgia’s six-foot-eight-inch center Toumani Camari.
After junior Keyontae Johnson’s season-ending collapse, forward Anthony Duruji emerged as a key replacement for the Preseason SEC Player of the Year. The junior was a non-factor in the off-season, only averaging about 13 points per game through the first four contests in SEC play.
However, Duruji’s production has been cut in third, averaging just four points per ball game in the last three contests while posting modest rebounding numbers.
Outside of a poor shooting effort against Ole Miss, the Louisiana Tech transfer hasn’t been erratic. He just hasn’t taken many shots. Duruji took four attempts from the field against Tennessee and Mississippi State and failed to reach the charity stripe in either contest.
Duruji will have an interesting matchup against 6-foot-6-inch Moore Saturday. The Georgia senior has failed to put up impressive defensive figures thus far. A strong performance from Duruji should assure Gator fans that his success wasn’t a flash in the pan.
Despite being undersized in many matchups this season, the Gators have continued to excel on the offensive glass, rounding out the top 25 in offensive rebounding percentage.
Georgia has had the exact opposite problem, as the Bulldogs have struggled to rebound their own basket. UGA allows an offensive rebound on 31% of opposition possessions, good for 279th in the country.
Florida needs to be careful as Georgia plays at one of the fastest tempos in the country. Over-committing on the offensive glass could lead to comfortable baskets in transition for the Bulldogs.
UGA ranks just inside the top 100 in KenPom and possesses a pair of blowout losses against lower-tier SEC teams. As impressive as Tuesday’s win against Tennessee was, a slip up in the Peach State could be equally devastating.
Action will tip off at 2 p.m Saturday and will stream on ESPN2.
Contact Declan Walsh at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @declanaw