Florida’s 7-0 start has looked pretty easy. Getting to 8-0 should prove to be much more challenging.
To do so, the fifth-ranked Gators will need their first true road win over a top-10 team in nearly 10 years as they play another 7-0 squad, No. 8 Arizona on Saturday night.
Florida was at home and No. 12 in the AP poll when it played an unranked Wildcats squad last season but needed overtime to win 78-72.
The Gators haven’t had any close calls this season en route to their best start since 2009-10, winning by an average of 25.3 points – one of the highest differentials in the country. Their first true road game Dec. 5 against Florida State figured to be more of a test, but they led by 20 at halftime and came away with a 72-47 victory.
That’s the only time they’ve played since rolling to an 82-49 win Nov. 29 over a Marquette squad which is 6-2.
“I wouldn’t say anything has come easy,” forward Erik Murphy told the team’s official website. “It may have looked easy, but I think that’s just a product of what we’ve been doing and the hard work we’ve put in. We just have to keep sustaining that.”
The Wildcats needed to clear a big hurdle for their first 7-0 start since 1998-99, as they faced a 42-36 deficit with over 12 minutes remaining at Clemson last Saturday. Mark Lyons would tally eight points and two assists the rest of the way to lead Arizona to a 66-54 victory.
The transfer from Xavier finished with a season-high 20 points and ranks second on the team at 13.4 per game.
“He has a confidence in our huddle and a tough about him when going against confident players because he’s been in so many big games,” said coach Sean Miller, who recruited Lyons to Xavier before taking the Arizona job. “He’s contagious. And I thought one of the reasons we continued to stay with it and fight in the second half was his disposition.”
Lyons is hitting 38.7 percent of his 3-pointers, part of a team that ranks among the nation’s best from beyond the arc at 40.5 percent.
Nick Johnson has made a pair of 3s in three straight games and averages a team-leading 13.6 points. He missed all four of his 3-point tries last year against Florida and had five points in 35 minutes.
Florida has allowed only two of its seven opponents to shoot better than 32 percent from 3-point range – one was a 2-for-4 performance by Savannah State.
The Gators play some of the toughest defense in the country overall. They’re allowing 48.3 points per game – second-best nationally – and have limited opponents to 34.9 percent from the field.
Offensively, Florida is succeeding with balance. Two guards – Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario – are averaging double-digit points, as are two forwards, Murphy and Patric Young. Against Florida State, Boynton and Rosario led the Gators with 14 apiece.
“Hopefully our guys are able to see that our sum – our total – is maybe bigger than one or two individuals,” coach Billy Donovan said. “That’s a good sign of a team.”
Florida has lost 14 of its last 15 true road games against top-10 teams, dropping eight straight since a 74-66 win over No. 7 Mississippi State on Jan. 7, 2003.
The Gators are the first top-10 team to visit Tucson since 2008. Arizona has won three of its last four home games against ranked teams.
Florida owns a 2-1 series edge after overcoming a seven-point deficit in the final six minutes last season. Young finished with a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds.