After leaving Florida for the first time this season for a tournament in Kansas City, the Gators are returning to their home state. It will be quite a while until they leave again.
The 17th-ranked Gators begin their six-week stay in Florida on Sunday when they play Missouri-Kansas City at Amway Arena in Orlando.
Florida (4-1) opened this season with three impressive wins at the O’Connell Center, but did not look as sharp in the CBE Classic in Kansas City.
The Gators lost to Syracuse 89-83 on Monday, and escaped with an 86-84 win over Washington on Tuesday. Florida allowed the Huskies to rally from a 10-point deficit with just under 5 minutes remaining to tie the score at 81 with 1:23 left. Washington’s Jon Brockman missed a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer.
“We’ve got to be able to finish the game out,” said sophomore Nick Calathes, who finished with 21 points and eight assists. “It was definitely closer than we wanted.”
Calathes is averaging a team-high 17.4 points, and this will be a homecoming for the two-time Mr. Basketball for the state of Florida. Calathes led Lake Howell High School of suburban Orlando to the 2007 state title.
The Gators play their next 11 games in the state of Florida before traveling to Auburn on Jan. 14. Of these upcoming 11 games, six are at the O’Connell Center, two are at the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise, one is an away game at Florida State, one is in Jacksonville and one is in Orlando.
Florida hasn’t played in Orlando since 1997, and is 3-8 all-time at Amway Arena.
The Gators are 30-3 in November over the past five seasons, and hope to build off a strong performance from the perimeter in their last game.
Florida worked the ball around for open looks and went 11-of-22 from beyond the arc on Tuesday after shooting 8-for-39 from 3-point range its previous two games.
While the Gators saw improvement from their outside shooters, they once again struggled defensively.
Florida allowed the Cougars to hit 58.9 percent from the floor, just the fourth time this decade it has let the opposition shoot above 58 percent. The Gators’ last two opponents have shot a combined 55.2 percent from the field and 15-of-33 (45.5 percent) from 3-point range.
“We’ve got to find ways to get better on defense,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said.
Missouri-Kansas City (3-4) made a season-high 10 3-pointers on 24 attempts in its 73-69 win over Florida Gulf Coast Wednesday in the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic.
Reggie Hamilton led the Kangaroos with 22 points and made 9-of-11 free throws, including two with 2.5 seconds left to seal the win. Hamilton has scored at least 20 points in each of his last four games, averaging 21.8 points in that span while making 12-of-24 from 3-point range.
With Wednesday’s victory, UMKC matched last season’s road win total. The Kangaroos have split their four road games this season after going 2-13 away from Kansas City in 2007-08.
This will be the first time the Gators have faced UMKC, which has lost all six road games it has played against ranked opponents since 1996-97.