Florida vs. Mississippi game preview

March 16, 2013

Game time: 1 p.m.
TV: 1 p.m.

Florida went through a rough stretch to end the regular season, but it now has a chance to win its first SEC tournament title in six seasons.

Mississippi has had to wait twice as long just to be in this position.

The 13th-ranked Gators go for a sixth consecutive victory in this matchup Sunday when the third-seeded Rebels try to nail down their first NCAA tournament berth in 11 years.

Coach Billy Donovan wasn't pleased with the Gators' play heading into this week's games in Nashville after they dropped three of their final six regular-season games, losing by six or fewer each time.

Florida (26-6), which began play Saturday as the nation's leader in scoring margin at plus-18.9, is 0-5 this season in games decided by six or fewer. The Gators, though, feel better about their ability to compete, and win, in tight games after Saturday's 61-51 semifinal victory over Alabama.

They overcame a 10-point deficit, their largest of the season.

"We know that to win out games in the NCAA tournament, games are going to be close, so we have to consistently close out games," said senior guard Kenny Boynton, who scored all 16 of his points in a seven-minute stretch of the second half, including 11 straight at one point.

If the top-seeded Gators can get a similar effort from Boynton, who's struggled with his shot all season and had two points in Friday's 80-58 quarterfinal win over LSU, they could be hard to beat as they make their second title game appearance in three seasons.

Florida is 16-0 when he scores at least 12 points.

Boynton had just nine on 3-of-13 shooting the last time these teams met, but he finished with a career high-tying nine assists in a 78-64 victory in Gainesville on Feb. 2.

Florida has won 11 of 12 over the Rebels (25-8). The lone conference tournament matchup during that stretch was the Gators' 80-59 semifinal victory in 2007. They went on to win their third straight SEC tournament title and second consecutive national championship.

Mississippi, meanwhile, appears to be headed back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002 after rallying from 14 down to defeat Missouri 64-62 on Friday and winning Saturday's semifinal 64-52 over Vanderbilt, the defending tournament champs.

"I feel pretty confident about our opportunity to get the albatross from around the neck of this program as it relates to NCAA tournament," said coach Andy Kennedy.

The Rebels, though, would leave that decision out of the selection committee's hands if they can take care of business in their first SEC tournament title game since losing to Kentucky in 2001. Mississippi's only victory in four SEC tournament title game appearances was 1981 when it defeated Georgia.

"There's very few times in your life that you have a chance to compete for a championship. That's where I want our focus to be," Kennedy added. "I want them to play loose and free, understanding that on Sunday we have the makings of a party."

If that happens, there's a decent chance that Marshall Henderson will be right in the middle of it. The junior guard, the SEC's leading scorer, has totaled 50 points in the first two rounds, and he's scored 22 or more in each contest during the Rebels' four-game win streak.

Henderson hit seven 3-pointers and scored 25 points last month against Florida, saying afterward that the Gators would be the "No. 1 the country by the end of the season."

The Rebels could be without starting point guard Jarvis Summers for a second straight game after he suffered a possible concussion in the quarterfinals. If he can't go, freshman Derrick Millinghaus, who scored the game-winner with 1.1 seconds left on Friday, could be in the starting lineup again.

Mississippi forwards Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner have combined for 43 points and 36 boards in the tournament.

Florida big men Patric Young and Erik Murphy have totaled 56 points and 32 rebounds. Murphy, who had career bests with 27 points and 12 boards in the quarterfinals, hit five 3s and scored a team-best 19 last month against the Rebels.

The Gators have won the regular-season and SEC tournament titles in the same season just once before - 2007.