GAME NOTES: A Top-25 showdown is on tap in the nightcap of the Jimmy V. Classic, as the 16th-ranked Florida Gators square off with the 15th-ranked Memphis Tigers at Madison Square Garden.
Billy Donovan's Gators dropped their first two matchups against ranked opponents this season, with losses to Wisconsin (59-53) and Connecticut (65-64), but the team does enter this contest off its best win of the season, taking out Kansas a week ago, 67-61. The victory improved Florida to 7-2 on the season.
Josh Pastner's Tigers have just one loss on the season, that coming in mid- November at Oklahoma State (101-80). Memphis was able to rectify the setback with a 73-68 win over the same Cowboys on Dec. 1 and enters this game with a six-game win streak in tow following last Friday's 73-59 win over Arkansas- Little Rock.
This marks just the second time these teams have met on the hardwood. Florida won the only previous matchup, an 84-83 decision in 1976 in the championship game of the Big Sun Tournament.
The Gators overwhelmed Kansas with a 21-0 run midway through the first half and never looked back in the six-point win over the Jayhawks. Florida, which extended its home win streak to 21 games with the victory, was led by Scottie Wilbekin, who netted 18 points and doled out six assists. Dorian Finney-Smith added 15 points off the bench, while Casey Prather and Patric Young chimed in with 12 points apiece. The Gators shot just .370 from the floor overall and were outrebounded 40-30, but forced Kansas into 24 turnovers, turning those miscues into 28 points.
Florida doesn't put up gaudy scoring totals, averaging a modest 71.8 ppg on .455 shooting. However, the team does get scoring from a variety of sources. Prather has been a force up front for the Gators, averaging a team-high 18.3 ppg on just over 61-percent accuracy from the floor. The 6-foot-6 senior is second in both rebounding (6.1 rpg) and assists (21). Wilbekin is next in the scoring column at 13.0 ppg, followed by Michael Frazier II (12.3 ppg), Finney- Smith (11.0 ppg) and Young (10.4 ppg), who is tops on the team in rebounding (7.1 rpg).
The Tigers started slow, shooting an ugly .281 from the floor in the first half and actually trailed UARL by seven points at the break (31-24). However, they made up for it over the final 20 minutes of action, converting 51.9 percent from the floor in the second half to continue their winning ways. Shaq Goodwin and Joe Jackson shared team-high honors with 17 points each. Geron Johnson rounded out the top scorers with 13 points in the win.
Memphis is getting it done at the offensive end of the court this season, averaging an impressive 84.8 ppg on a steady 48.2 percent efficiency. Four starters are averaging double figures, giving the Tigers a balanced attack. Jackson leads the charge at 15.0 ppg. Goodwin isn't far behind at 13.6 ppg and leads the way on the glass (6.5 rpg). Austin Nichols and Michael Dixon Jr. complete the potent quartet with 10.8 ppg each.
The Gators can turn the heat up defensively, as they did against Kansas, and that could present problems for the Tigers, who count on getting into a rhythm and running away from foes.
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