Top-ranked Gators begin postseason in clash with Tigers

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Updated: 3/14 10:51 am

Atlanta, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - After enjoying a double bye into the quarterfinal round, the top-seeded Florida Gators will finally begin their stay in the SEC Tournament on Friday afternoon when they take on the eighth- seeded Missouri Tigers.

The winner will move on the Saturday's semifinal bout to play either Tennessee or South Carolina.

The Gators conquered the Tigers in the only previous meeting this season, 68-58 in Gainesville on Feb. 4, to pull ahead in the all-time series, 2-1.

Missouri (22-10) is considered to be a bubble team for NCAA Tournament consideration, and in a must-win situation against ninth-seeded Texas A&M in the second round on Thursday, it pulled off a double-overtime triumph, 91-83. After coughing up leads late in both regulation and the first overtime, the squad finally put the Aggies away in the second extra stanza thanks to a 9-0 run. Although its performance from the field was simply modest (.423), it was extraordinarily business from the free-throw line, knocking down 40-of-53 at the stripe. Jabari Brown set the pace with 26 points, while Earnest Ross was hot on his heels with 24 points. Jordan Clarkson pitched in 12 points and Johnathan Williams patrolled the paint with 11 points and 15 rebounds.

The Tigers offensive attack has been potent all season long, as they pour 73.7 ppg on greater than 45 percent field goal shooting. Brown was the league's leading scorer heading into the tournament with 19.7 ppg, while Clarkson (18.1 ppg) and Ross (13.5 ppg) have also been solid.

Florida, the No. 1 team in the nation, earned the outright regular-season conference title for the second consecutive season and for the seventh time in program history by finishing a perfect 18-0 in league play, becoming the first SEC team to ever accomplish that feat and just the fourth team from a major conference to run the table in the league in the past 15 seasons. The Gators are 29-2 overall, having already set a program record for most wins in a season.

The Gators have enjoyed plenty of offensive success this season, as they shoot 46.3 percent from the field for 71.5 ppg, but the biggest reason they have risen to the top spot in the AP poll has been the outstanding play of their defense, which ranks in the top-five nationally in yielding just 58.5 ppg. Casey Prather (14.6 ppg) is the team's top scoring threat, shooting a lofty 62.5 percent from the field, Scottie Wilbekin (12.9 ppg, 3.9 apg, 1.5 spg) strong all-around game led him to earn SEC Player of the Year honors, while Michael Frazier (12.9 ppg), Patric Young (10.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Dorian Finney-Smith (9.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg) round out the deep squad.

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