Florida's impressive regular season has assured it will be a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, and it will be looking to get back to the Final Four for the first time since winning its second straight national title in 2007.
Though the Gators have lengthened their list of accomplishments since then, an SEC tournament championship isn't on it.Top-ranked Florida looks to extend its school-record winning streak Friday against Missouri, which is seeking a signature victory to bolster its NCAA tournament chances.The Gators (29-2) have won 23 straight since falling at then-No. 12 Connecticut on Dec. 2, including a perfect run through the SEC to become the first major-conference team since Indiana in 1976 to finish 18-0 in league play.Coach Billy Donovan has guided Florida to three straight appearances in the NCAA tournament's regional finals, and it is a virtual lock to open this season's Big Dance as a top seed Thursday in Orlando.That doesn't mean it has lost focus on winning the SEC tournament for the first time in seven years."If we're playing in Orlando, that's great," Donovan said. "But our goal right now would be to try to put three games together and play in a championship game on Sunday."Florida hasn't played since beating then-No. 25 Kentucky 84-65 on Saturday, when it shot 59.6 percent and got 18 points from Patric Young and 15 from Casey Prather. Should the Gators advance to the SEC title game, they're in for a bit of a quicker turnaround.Donovan hopes the scheduling will be modified in the future to guarantee teams playing in conference championships on Sunday an NCAA tournament opener the following Friday."None of that stuff is obviously ideal. We'll have to go out there and play (Thursday) regardless," Donovan said. "That was just something I would say we need to look at. But I think our guys will be excited about playing. Regardless where it is, we'll have time to get prepared and ready to play."Missouri simply is hoping to see its name included in the bracket when it is announced Sunday night. The eighth-seeded Tigers (22-10) went 9-9 in league play and advanced to face the Gators with a 91-83 double-overtime victory over ninth-seeded Texas A&M on Thursday.Jabari Brown scored 26 points and Earnest Ross had 24 for Missouri, which was coming off a 72-45 loss at Tennessee on Saturday that left it in a must-win situation against the Aggies.A win over Florida would help the Tigers make a strong impression on the selection committee for an at-large berth should they not win the SEC tournament. They went 40 of 53 from the free-throw line Thursday, as Brown hit 14 of 18.Missouri, which went 12-1 in non-conference play, has been to five straight NCAA tournaments, though its signature victory this season is an 80-71 home win over then-No. 18 UCLA on Dec. 7."We've got a great opportunity (Friday) to play the No. 1 team in the country, and we're excited about it," coach Frank Haith said.The Gators beat Missouri 68-58 on Feb. 4 in Gainesville in the only meeting this season, outscoring the Tigers 43-30 in the final 20 minutes after trailing by three at the half. Scottie Wilbekin scored a game-high 19 points for Florida, going 13 of 16 from the free-throw line.
Florida vs Missouri in 2nd Half - From 11:58 to 1:27
Starting with a Will Yeguete layup at 10:03 in the second half, Florida made 12 of its final 14 field goal attempts, including eight straight to finish the game. During the final 10:03, eight different players scored for the Gators and they outscored Missouri by 21 points.
After shooting just 34.3 percent from 3-point range over their first 28 games, Florida is now shooting 50.0 percent from deep (45-for-90) in its last 4 games.
Florida's 45 3-pointers made over its last 4 games is already 25.6 percent of its previous total of 176 over those first 28 games.