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December 16, 2013
Florida believes things are starting to come together.
Memphis coach Josh Pastner may not feel the same way about his team.
The No. 16 Gators look to build on their most impressive win of the season when they meet the 15th-ranked Tigers for the first time in 37 years Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Florida (7-2) beat then-No. 13 Kansas 67-61 last Tuesday, dominating early by scoring 21 straight points in the first half. It came eight days after the Gators fell 65-64 on a buzzer-beater at then-No. 12 Connecticut, ending a five-game winning streak.
"It just feels like we're coming together as a whole," said guard Scottie Wilbekin, who had a career-high 18 points with six assists and four steals against the Jayhawks.
Memphis (7-1) may be outscoring opponents by an average of 18.6 points during a six-game winning streak, but Pastner wasn't thrilled with the effort in Friday's 73-59 win over Arkansas-Little Rock.
The Tigers trailed by seven points at the half and shot a season-low 39.0 percent, going 7 for 23 from 3-point range.
"You have to be so ready to go," Pastner said. "Our guys came out, and I don't know what it was. They thought they could go away from the system that has been working for us."
Pastner is looking for some leadership from senior guards Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon Jr. They combined for 43 points Friday while making 11 of 40 from the floor.
"When they don't play well, our team is not going to be as good," Pastner said. "We need those guys to be really good every single time on the floor. We're counting on those guys to be elite - not individually, but collectively."
Improvement from Dixon could be enough to please Pastner after he missed all eight of his shots while finishing with four points against Arkansas-Little Rock. Dixon, averaging 10.8 points, totaled 26 over the previous two games while hitting 11 of 17 shots - 4 of 10 from long range.
Jackson leads Memphis with 15.0 points per game.
If the seniors struggle again, Pastner may lean on Shaq Goodwin. The sophomore forward is averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 rebounds while connecting on 66.7 percent from the field over the past three games.
While Pastner wants more out of his seniors, Florida coach Billy Donovan may be looking for the same from one of his.
Forward Casey Prather, the team leader with 18.3 points per game, is trying to bounce after needing to sink 10 of 12 free throws to make up for his 1-for-5 effort from the field against Kansas. He averaged 21.7 points on 69.4 percent shooting over the prior three games.
Florida won its only meeting with Memphis on Dec. 18, 1976, and the Gators are looking to minimize any distractions created from visiting New York.
"It's a business trip," center Patric Young told the team's official website. "Ask me after the game what I think about it."