Florida-Texas A&M Preview
Immediately after Texas A&M ended a 30-year title drought, senior swingman Jalen Jones was looking ahead to his team's pursuit for another championship.
The 17th-ranked Aggies begin their quest for a rare sweep of regular-season and tournament crowns in Friday's SEC quarterfinal against Florida.
Texas A&M (24-7) clinched a share of its first regular-season championship since 1985-86 by winning six straight following a four-game losing streak, leaving the Aggies in a tie with No. 16 Kentucky.
"It's just overwhelming right now, all the adversity we faced during conference and all the hard work that we put in during the summer," Jones said after a 76-67 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. "To win the conference championship feels great, and we've got to continue to build on this and get other championships as well."
Texas A&M has won two league tournament titles, 1980 and '87 in the Southwest Conference. The first of those crowns was the only one to follow a regular-season championship.
The Aggies' SEC tournament appearances have proved so lackluster that their No. 1 seed and automatic spot in the quarterfinals marks the farthest they have advanced since joining the league in 2012-13. They were upset by No. 13 seed Auburn in their opener last season.
The eighth-seeded Gators (19-13) topped Arkansas 68-61 in their tournament opener on Thursday and almost certainly need another victory to strengthen their case for an NCAA Tournament invitation.
Kasey Hill provided a season-high 18 points, including a key layup with 53 seconds to go for Florida, which won its second in a row following a poorly timed four-game losing streak.
The Gators' second-leading scorer and rebounder John Egbunu played despite tearing a ligament in his right thumb in practice Tuesday. The sophomore center had eight points and nine boards off the bench while wearing a brace.
"I'm not shocked, but I'm really surprised that he played that well," coach Mike White said. "To be that productive, to go get six offensive rebounds, to ball screen defend the way that he did was, it was a pretty courageous performance."
White's team held the Razorbacks to 36.1 percent shooting and 2 of 12 from 3-point range but struggled to contain Texas A&M's two leading scorers in a 71-68 defeat Jan. 12. Jones had 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting and Danuel House had 22 despite missing 17 of 24 attempts.
The Gators held the Aggies to 36.1 percent shooting, but A&M had only seven turnovers and made 20 of 30 free throws while Florida was 4 of 12.
"Remembering the end of the game, we obviously were in there. We had our chances," White said. "I think Texas A&M, obviously, they've had a tremendous year. They've done a great job. They have incredible balance and role definition on their team."
Florida lost to top-seeded Kentucky in last year's quarterfinals to end a four-year streak of reaching the tournament semifinals.
The winner of this game faces either No. 4 seed LSU or No. 12 Tennessee.