Billy Donovan’s Florida team has been able to overcome a plethora of injuries to key players while getting off to a solid start in SEC play.
One of the conference’s newcomers seems ready to present another difficult challenge.
The 10th-ranked Gators will have Mike Rosario back in the lineup when they visit Elston Turner and surging Texas A&M on Thursday night.
Rosario sat out Saturday’s 74-52 victory over LSU with a sprained left ankle after scoring 19 points as Florida (12-2, 2-0) beat Georgia 77-44 on Jan. 9. He has been cleared to play Thursday, but Casey Prather suffered a high ankle sprain against LSU and will be out up to two weeks.
Guard Scottie Wilbekin (finger) and forwards Erik Murphy (rib) and Will Yeguete (knee) also are dealing with injuries.
“A team that’s able to bounce back and play a really good game with some of their best players out, that shows a lot about their team,” said center Pat Young, who scored 14 points Saturday.
“Just wait until we have everybody healthy. Hopefully, later in the season we won’t have any injuries affecting us.”
Those ailments haven’t slowed the Gators, who are shooting 52.3 percent during a four-game winning streak. Texas A&M, though, ranks second in the SEC giving up 59.4 points per game, trailing only Florida (52.0).
Donovan, whose team also leads the conference in field-goal percentage defense at 36.5, credits Wilbekin as being one of the league’s top defenders as well as possessing a solid all-around game.
“Scottie’s never gotten a lot of notoriety as a scorer, even though he is a good scorer. But he loves the challenge on defense,” Donovan told the school’s official website. “He’ll have another challenge Thursday.”
Wilbekin will be tasked with shutting down Turner, who scored a career-high 40 points in Texas A&M’s 83-71 victory at Kentucky on Saturday.
“I saw the highlights,” Wilbekin said. “He’s really good.”
Turner is tied for third in the SEC averaging 17.1 points and is second in the conference hitting 44.2 percent of his 3-pointers for the Aggies (12-3, 2-0), who have won four straight since a disappointing 53-51 home loss to Southern on Dec. 22.
Though the victory over a struggling Kentucky team is Texas A&M’s most prominent win, Young said the Gators are going to be in for a tough road challenge.
“We can’t come in there underestimating them,” Young said. “They’re just as capable of winning the league as we are – as anyone else. So we’ve just got to come in there with the right mindset.”
The Aggies are averaging only 9.7 turnovers over their last three games, and Turner said they’ll need to play just as efficient in order to pull off the upset.
Florida leads the SEC averaging only 11.4 giveaways.
“It’s going to be the biggest game in the past two years for us,” Turner said. “In order for us to (win), we’re going to have to play even better than we did against Kentucky. Florida is a great team and they have a lot of great guards. We just have to play smart and play pretty much a perfect game.”
Turner’s 20 points couldn’t help overcome 22 from Kenny Boynton as Florida beat Texas A&M 84-64 on a neutral court in the most recent meeting Dec. 17, 2011.