Florida-Rutgers Preview

The Associated Press

Already one of the nation's best offensive teams, Florida's defense is starting to catch up.

The 10th-ranked Gators will try to ride their newfound defensive intensity to their first true road win of the season Thursday night against Rutgers.

Behind the backcourt trio of Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal, Florida (10-2) ranks near the top of Division I with 85.8 points per game and leads the nation with 11.1 3-pointers made per game.

Florida headed into the holiday break with its fifth straight win, beating rival Florida State 82-64 last Thursday as all five starters scored in double figures. Beal had a game-high 21 points, Patric Young added 15 on 7-of-7 shooting and Boynton contributed 14.

More impressive, though, was the team's defense, which turned 19 Florida State turnovers into 25 points and limited the Seminoles to 40.7 percent (24 of 59) shooting.

"We don't get much credit for our defense because our offense has been so great," said Young, whose highlight-reel block sparked a decisive second-half run. "And we just wanted to show them from the get-go that they weren't going to get anything easy, that we were going to be really physical."

The Gators have held each of their last three opponents under 65 points, limiting those teams to 38.6 percent shooting.

With its five guards averaging a combined 60.1 points, Florida would be even stronger if forwards Young and Erik Murphy continue their recent production.

Young already has 136 points this season, surpassing the 126 he had in 37 games as a freshman. He is averaging 13.8 points on 81.1 percent (30 of 37) shooting during the Gators' five-game win streak after scoring 8.2 per game on 45.7 percent (16 for 35) in the previous five contests.

Murphy, meanwhile, has scored in double figures and totaled 19 rebounds in all three games since returning to the starting lineup.

Guard Mike Rosario is likely to miss his third consecutive game due to a strained back, meaning the transfer might have to sit out against his former team. He averaged over 16 points in each of his two seasons with the Scarlet Knights.

"I would be shocked if he played,'' coach Billy Donovan said.

While not at the level of top-ranked Syracuse or No. 2 Ohio State - Florida's two losses - Rutgers (7-5) should present a challenge for Donovan's team. The Scarlet Knights are strong defensively and beat the last top 10 team they faced, upsetting No. 9 Villanova 77-76 on Feb. 9.

Though coach Mike Rice was far from pleased, Rutgers won its third straight with a 77-53 victory over New Jersey Institute of Technology on Dec. 22. Freshman Myles Mack scored 16 points off the bench and Gil Biruta added 15 for Rice's team, which trailed by eight early in the second half.

''Maybe we'll (improve) with an upgrade in competition,'' Rice said. ''Maybe we'll come out, maybe we won't. We were down eight (to NJIT). Against a Top 10 team we'll be down 28. We'll find out when the top teams start coming in.''

The Scarlet Knights forced at least 15 turnovers for the 10th straight game and held an opponent under 40 percent shooting for the eighth time this season.

Florida has won four straight - each by at least 14 points - against Rutgers in the Donovan era, with its only loss in the series coming in 1972.

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