Gators return to road at Auburn

Gators return to road at Auburn

The Gators are hoping they've learned. After getting pounded at Arkansas during their last road game on February 5, No. 7 Florida hits the road on Saturday at Auburn for the first game in a stretch of three out of four on the road. Facing an Auburn team that's 3-8 in conference play shouldn't be as much of a challenge on paper, but the Gators are preparing for every team's best shot.

"If you don't play well on the road, you don't have the crowd behind you and it makes it hard," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said before Thursday's practice. "It's tough to win. We'll understand going into this game that we have to play well. They play very hard and are aggressive."

On paper, Auburn doesn't look like it provides a tough matchup for the Gators. However, two of its three wins have come at home, as well as dropping a game by two points at home to Ole Miss. Auburn also went to Kentucky on February 9 and lost by 10.

And with the No. 7 team in the country coming to town, the Gators know Auburn Arena will be a loud atmosphere. They got a better idea of how to play through it while watching film of the loss at Arkansas, but it will still be a challenge on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

"We learned that you've got to come out ready no matter what," Florida forward Erik Murphy said. "Anything can happen, so you've got to be ready. Teams are going to give us their best shot, so we've got to be ready to take it and give it back. We can take experience from (Arkansas) and be ready for it."

Auburn is in the middle of the Southeastern Conference pack for most statistics— Eighth in scoring offense, ninth in scoring defense and ninth in rebounding margin — but the main area Florida should experience success is from behind the three-point line. The Gators are leading the SEC by shooting 38.9%, a full 2.8% higher than second place Kentucky. Auburn is 12th in the conference, allowing opponents to shoot 32.9% from behind the arc.

The best threat in the paint for the Tigers is 6-10, 250-pound senior Rob Chubb, who is averaging 9.1 points and 7.3 rebounds. With Will Yeguete out for the remainder of the regular season, the Gators know they'll have to put a body on Chubb when a shot goes up.

"It's big," Murphy said of the matchup in the paint. "He's a good player after going against him in the past."

Junior guard Chris Denson, who Florida spent some time recruiting when he was at Shaw High School in Columbus, Ga., has led the Tigers in scoring each of the past two games, totaling 33 points. He has only played in 13 games this season because of a stress fracture in his left foot, but Denson is starting to come on at the right time for Auburn.

"He's a really, really good scorer," Donovan said. "He's a good shooter. He's a lefty that's quick. With a guy like him, what makes him tough is that he has the ability to drive to the basket. I always think when lefties drive and get into the lane, they make it a little more awkward because most guys are right-handed. He's really crafty when he gets in there.

"Any space that he gets, he's a good three-pointer shooter that can shoot. Even coming out of high school to now, he has proven to be a good scorer in this league."

The trip will also be Donovan's first time to Auburn since his daughter, Hasbrouck, joined the Tigers' equestrian team in the summer. Christine Donovan, Billy's wife, was already in Auburn on Thursday to spend time with their daughter before the Gators play there on Saturday afternoon.

"I'll probably get a chance to see her," Donovan said. "I don't know if I'll get a chance to see her ride, but I'm sure she'll stop by."

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