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Saturday, March 17, 1 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Bridgestone Arena (19,395) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: ABC. Home Record: Ole Miss 16-1, Florida 15-0. Away Record: Ole Miss 6-6, Florida 7-6. Neutral Record: Ole Miss 3-1, Florida 4-0. Conference Record: Ole Miss 12-6, Florida 14-4. Series Record: Florida leads, 61-42.
GAME NOTES: Seeking their first conference title since 2007, the top-seeded Florida Gators will take on the upset-minded Ole Miss Rebels to decide the Southeastern Conference Tournament champion at Brigdestone Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Ole Miss enters this contest with its NCAA Tournament hopes still alive after posting wins against Missouri (64-62) and Vanderbilt (64-52) in the first two rounds of the tournament. The Rebels have won six of their last seven games to improve to 25-8 overall, which has them in the running for one of the final at-large bids for the Big Dance. Ole Miss has not claimed an SEC title since 1981, and has not been in the tourney title tilt since 2001.
The Gators are making their second appearance in the championship game in the last three years. To get here they posted two rather convincing wins over LSU (80-58) and Alabama (61-51). Florida is a lock to be in the field for the NCAA Tournament, but is hoping earn its first SEC Tournament crown since winning three straight between 2004-07. UF is 25-6 overall and had a 14-4 mark against conference foes during the regular season when it reached as high as No. 2 in the national rankings.
During the regular season these teams met just once with Florida routing Ole Miss, 78-64, at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville. The Gators have now won five straight in the series which they lead by a 61-42 margin.
Marshall Henderson scored a game-high 23 points to lead Ole Miss to its win over Vanderbilt in the semifinals. The Rebels trailed for most of the first half, but battled to tie the game at 26-26 heading into the break. After halftime, the Rebels connected on 48.1 percent of their field goal attempts to pull away for the 12-point victory.
Paced by Henderson (20 ppg), the Rebels have been the top scoring team in the SEC this year as they average 78.2 ppg while connecting on 43.7 percent of their total shots. Henderson hasn't been a particularly efficient scorer for the Rebels, connecting on just 38.3 percent from the field, but he has shown an ability to hit shots from just about everywhere on the floor. Murphy Holloway (14.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg) is a solid contributor on the interior as he is the leading rebounder for the Rebels, who rank second in the SEC on the boards. Like Holloway, Reginald Buckner (9.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.7 bpg) is a force in the paint with his ability to score, rebound and block shots.
Florida was facing a 10-point deficit early in the second half of its semifinal-round clash with Alabama. However, the Gators turned that 37-27 deficit into a five-point lead by ripping off a 15-0 run midway through the period. The Gators would never trail again as they hit 48 percent from the field and 10-of-13 from the free-throw line over the final 20 minutes.
The Gators (71.9 ppg) may not be as potent a scoring team as Ole Miss, but they have been a team that can score at will thanks to their impressive efficiency at the offensive end. Florida leads the SEC in assists (15 apg) and field goal percentage (.484). Billy Donovan's squad is also air-tight on defense, ranking in the top-three nationally in scoring yield (53.3 ppg) and opponent field goal percentage (.374). Kenny Boynton (12.3 ppg, 3.0 apg) had struggled to muster just 11 points in the previous two games, but bounced back with a 16-point effort against Alabama. Mike Rosario (12.1 ppg), Erik Murphy (12.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Patric Young (10.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg) are also solid scorers for the Gators, while Scottie Wilbekin (9.1 ppg, 5.0 apg) has made big contributions as a facilitator.
Henderson can shoot the lights out and if he gets hot the Rebels could hang around for a while, but the Gators' balance at both ends of the court will be the difference. Florida has been the class of the SEC all season long. Time to coronate the new kings.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Florida 73, Ole Miss 65
03/17 10:32:56 ET
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