Air Force (8-2) vs. (14) Florida (8-2)
Saturday, December 29, 4:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, College Basketball Senior Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: BB&T Center (20,737) -- Sunrise, Florida. Television: FSN-FL. Home Record: Air Force 5-1, Florida 6-0. Away Record: Air Force 2-1, Florida 1-2. Neutral Record: Air Force 1-0, Florida 1-0. Conference Record: Air Force 0-0, Florida 0-0. Series Record: Florida leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The 14th-ranked Florida Gators make the short trip to Sunrise on Saturday to take on the Air Force Falcons as part of the Orange Bowl Classic from the BB&T Center.
Billy Donovan's Gators opened the season strong with seven straight wins, but have returned to Earth with losses in two of their last three games, falling at Arizona (65-64) and most recently, against Kansas State (67-61) in Kansas City.
Dave Pilipovich's first full season at the helm at Air Force has begun with wins in eight of the Falcons' first 10 games. Air Force has won two straight games coming into this contest, topping Arkansas Pine-Bluff (65-49) and UC Riverside (61-53).
This is just the second meeting between these two teams on the hardwood. Florida won the only previous encounter, a 74-68 decision in 1963.
A strong defensive effort that limited the hometown Highlanders to just 36.0 percent shooting proved to be the difference for Air Force last weekend. In addition, the Falcons forced 19 turnovers, scoring 19 points off those miscues. Michael Lyons led the way at the offensive end, pouring in 22 points, on 8-of-16 shooting. Kyle Green added 11 points off the bench, while Taylor Broekhuis chipped in with 10.
The Falcons have been much more productive in terms of scoring than they have showed of late. On the year, Air Force is averaging a solid 76.9 ppg and have done so on a healthy .492 shooting overall. Lyons is the undeniable leader, averaging an impressive 20.5 ppg this year, while also pacing the team in rebounding (5.3 rpg). Broekhuis is a distant second in the scoring column at 11.2 ppg, but is connecting on just under 60 percent of his shots (.597). Todd Fletcher has also been efficient, draining 56.9 percent from the floor, while netting 10.2 ppg.
Unlike Air Force, Florida is fueled by its stifling defensive play. The Gators rank third in the nation in scoring defense at a mere 51.3 ppg, holding foes to a meager .359 shooting (13th nationally), while holding a +8.7 rebounding margin. In addition, UF is averaging 7.3 steals per game, while forcing just under 17 turnovers (16.7). The team also enjoys a +20.9 scoring margin, good for seventh nationally. While the Gators lack a prolific scorer like Lyons, there is scoring depth available, as four of the five starters are averaging double figures. Kenny Boynton leads the way at 12.4 ppg. Fellow guard Mike Rosario is a close second at 12.1 ppg, while forward Erik Murphy and center Patric Young provide balance up front with 11.2 and 10.9 ppg, respectively.
Young recorded a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but it wasn't enough, as Florida dropped a six-point decision to Kansas State at the Sprint Center last weekend. Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin added 11 points apiece, but Florida shot just .404 from the floor, including just 5-of-19 from 3-point range (.263). UF was outscored at the free-throw line, 20-10.
The Falcons have performed well at the offensive end, but may not be up to the challenge of Florida's stingy defensive play.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Florida 71, Air Force 63
12/29 10:40:50 ET