While Florida isn’t worried about being labeled the favorite in the SEC, the Gators realize it won’t hurt to have their leading scorer heat up at the right time.
The 11th-ranked Gators hope Kenny Boynton carries the momentum from his last performance into their conference opener as they try to beat the Bulldogs for the 11th straight time in Gainesville on Wednesday night.
With defending conference and NCAA tournament champion Kentucky off to a 9-4 start, many see Florida (10-2) as the team to beat in the SEC.
“I don’t think our guys feel any extra burden or pressure because we’re picked to win the league,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said.
Seeking its fifth straight win following a 2-7 start, Georgia will have to slow down one of the players that has helped Florida win four of six in this series.
Boynton, who has scored 14.6 points per game in his four-year career, has averaged 18.8 in six games against the Bulldogs. He’s finished with 17 or more in five of those contests, but was held to 11 in a 76-62 loss at Georgia on Feb. 25.
Boynton broke out of one of the worst slumps of his career Sunday when he matched a career high with 28 points and went 8 for 10 from 3-point range in a 79-58 win at Yale.
The senior guard had averaged 9.5 points and 27.9 percent shooting – 17.9 percent from beyond the arc – in his previous six games.
“I think he took a lot of challenged, difficult shots and he made himself one-dimensional for a few weeks there,” Donovan said.
While Donovan’s team will try to improve to 7-0 at home, Florida has won just three of its last five, with losses at then-No. 8 Arizona and Kansas State.
The Gators, though, have shot 56.9 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from 3-point range in their two consecutive wins.
Will Yeguete and Mike Rosario, who combined for 27 points Sunday, will continue to fill the void with senior starter Erik Murphy likely to miss his second straight game due to bruised ribs.
Florida faces a tough challenge defensively in a Georgia team that’s limited opponents to 33.5 percent shooting and 21.7 from beyond the arc during its four-game winning streak.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope remains the focal point for Georgia (6-7). The sophomore finished with a team-high 18 points to lead the Bulldogs past then-No. 12 Florida last season and had 17 in a 52-41 victory over George Washington on Friday.
“He clearly has emerged as one of the better players in our league,” Donovan said of Caldwell-Pope, averaging 17.5 points and 7.2 rebounds.
Forward Nemanja Djurisic has come on strong for the Bulldogs, following up a career-high 21-point effort versus Florida A&M on Dec. 29 with 17 on Friday.
Georgia ranks near the bottom of the SEC in field-goal percentage at 41.4 and scoring at 60.6 points per game. It will seek a more balanced effort against a Florida team that leads the conference in field-goal percentage defense at 36.8 and 52.7 points allowed per game.