EXPECT A BIG DAY IN FLORIDA
By Gene Phelps
Mississippi State and Florida know how to beat the stew out of each other.
Just look at last year’s results.
No Bulldog or Gator fan can forget the regular season game in Starkville, when Mississippi State turned a 28-19 halftime deficit into a stunning 70-47 upset of Florida. The Bulldogs, behind the shooting of guard Darryl Wilson, outscored the Gators 51-19 in the final 20 minutes.
“It went from one extreme to another so quickly,” Florida coach Lon Kruger said. “We had everything going our way, then it went to the other extreme right away.”
Game 2 last season was kind of a payback to Mississippi State from Florida. The Gators swamped the Bulldogs 80-64 in the second round of the SEC Tournament in Atlanta.
The win put Florida, which struggled last season after reaching the Final Four in 1994, back in the NCAA Tournament.
Who knows what will happen today at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla., when the 17th-ranked Bulldogs (9-1 overall, 1-0 SEC) and the unranked Gators (5-5, 0-1) meet in a 3 p.m. CST matchup.
Mississippi State comes to town for its sixth consecutive road game. But don’t cry for the Bulldogs. They’ve won five straight, including Wednesday’s 77-64 conference victory over LSU in Baton Rouge, La.
The Bulldogs had a solid win with the exception of their season-high 27 turnovers.
“If we cut those in half, we have a pretty nice margin of victory, and my stomach wouldn’t be hurting (laugh),” MSU coach Richard Williams said.
Florida’s Kruger overlooks the turnovers and sees only a team that shot 50 percent, outrebounded its opponent, and held its opponent to 32 percent shooting.
“Richard’s team is hardnosed,” Kruger said. “The first thing that jumps out at you is (Darryl) Wilson and (Erick) Dampier. Plus, (Marcus) Bullard played a lot last year, and they’ve got (Dontae’) Jones. They have a lot of people who’ve been there before.”
The Gators opened their SEC season with a 75-60 loss Wednesday to Arkansas. But, Florida won the All-College Tournament in Oklahoma City Dec. 29-30, beating Louisiana Tech (71-56) and Oklahoma (76-72 in OT).
“It’s been really good for us to have a tough non-conference schedule,” Kruger said. “Our young group has made some progress and learned from it.”