FAYETTEVILLE – A Florida Gators team that has postponed its last three games because of covid-19 testing and contact tracing but now cleared to play is scheduled to oppose the Arkansas Razorbacks tonight.
Tip-off is scheduled at 6 p.m. at Arkansas’ Walton Arena to be televised by ESPN2.
Coach Mike White’s Gators, 10-5 overall/6-4 in the SEC, last played Feb. 3 in a surprising, 72-60 loss at South Carolina.
Since then, because of covid issues within the Gators or their opponents, Florida postponed SEC games Feb. 6 against LSU in Baton Rouge, La.,; Feb. 10 against Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn. and last Saturday against Texas A&M at Florida’s O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.
Arkansas, because of covid issues with opponents, had to cancel an early season nonconference game with the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in Tulsa and postpone a Feb. 6 SEC game at
Walton Arena vs. Texas A&M.
Arkansas and Texas A&M are scheduled to play the Texas A&M home game in their 2-game SEC home and home at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in College Station, Texas.
The Razorbacks and Gators are scheduled just tonight with no rematch unless paired in the SEC Tournament.
White’s Gators, losing star forward Keyontae Johnson for the season’s duration with a medical condition, start four averaging double-scoring figures.
Guard Tre Mann leads at 14.5 followed by 6-11 forward Colin Castleton, 13.2, and guards Noah Locke, 11.5, and Jacksonville, Ark.native Tyree Appleby, 10.3.
Appleby, a transfer lettering two years at Cleveland State and redshirting as a junior transfer to Florida last season, drew some Arkansas recruiting interest when he put his name in then transfer portal but had been recruited by White when White coached Ole Miss.
““I think he is certainly playing really well for Florida,” Arkansas second-year Coach Eric Musselman, coaching Nevada when Appleby was a Jacksonville senior, said. “Certainly we talked to him (upon Appleby in the transfer portal) His family had past history with Coach White so it never went any more than just some conversation.”
Musselman also touted the 3-point shooting of Mann, 27 for 66 on treys, and Locke, 37 of 88; and 6-11 Castleton blocking 37 shots.
Florida had been on a 4-game streak including SEC successes over Georgia, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, and a SEC vs. Big 12 Challenge victory at West Virginia before the abyss of the South Carolina loss and subsequent covid related postponements.
Meanwhile Musselman’s Razorbacks, 16-5 and tied for second with LSU at 8-4 in the SEC, sport a 6-game SEC winning streak including finding ways to win last week’s on the road nail-biters, 81-80 at Kentucky and 86-81 in overtime at Missouri.
On postgame radio in Columbia, Mo. Musselman was asked if as the streak grows the Hogs are getting confident they’ll find a way no matter what.
“Yeah I think the players felt like that, the way we were talking at halftime,” Musselman said. “Because we played kind of a muddy game. We weren’t crisp in the first half.”
They played much better in the second half but couldn’t seal the deal losing a late 7-point lead for a Missouri layup with nine seconds left achieving a 73-73 overtime.
“Often times you see a team that’s right there on the verge of winning when they’re on the road and the game goes into overtime you see an emotional letdown,” Musselman said. “You see a team kind of hang their head because it was right there in regulation for us to win. But we just kept talking about, ‘Hey, we’ll be able to score. Let’s just try to get defensive stops, try to keep off the foul line as much as we possibly could.”
The six-game SEC winning streak has enabled the Hogs to crack the AP Top 25 rankings for the first time in Musselman’s tenure. They ranked 24th in Monday’s poll.
“I think first of all, it’s a great accomplishment for our players to be recognized nationally and to be ranked,”Musselman said Monday afternoon. “It’s not an easy thing to do. Having said that our whole concern, our whole focus, should be focused on the Florida Gators and the really talented team that’s coming in.”
ARKANSAS (16-5, 8-4)
F-Justin Smith 6-7 Sr. 11.6 pts. 6.5 rebs.
C-Connor Vanover 7-3 So. 7.9 5.6
G-Jalen Tate 6-6 Sr. 11.0 3.7
G-Moses Moody 6-6 Fr. 16.3 5.7
G-Davonte Davis 6-3 Fr. 6.6 3.5
FLORIDA (10-5, 6-4)
F-Omar Payne 6-10 So. 4.5 pts. 3.7 rebs.
F-Colin Castleton 6-11 Jr. 13.2 5.6
G-Tyree Appleby 6-1 Jr. 10.3 3.1
G-Noah Locke 6-3 Jr. 11.5 2.6
G-Tre Mann 6-5 So. 14.5 5.3