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No. 20 Missouri out to work on defense in visit to Florida

Jan 7, 2023; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Florida Gators forward Colin Castleton (12) during the second half against the Georgia Bulldogs at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

No. 20 Missouri will look to regroup from a lopsided loss when it plays Florida in the second of two consecutive road games on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla.

The Tigers (13-3, 2-2 SEC) are coming off an 82-64 loss at Texas A&M on Wednesday when they were exposed defensively. Texas A&M shot 53.3 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from 3-point range.

Missouri was unable to rally after falling behind 43-25 at halftime.

“I don’t know if there’s a clear answer to why we didn’t have as much energy until later in the game,” said forward Kobe Brown, who led Missouri with 12 points. “I don’t know. But I know we gotta fix it next game. Can’t let it happen again.”

Missouri’s defense has allowed an average of 79.3 points during a three-game stretch, during which the Tigers have gone 1-2. First-year Missouri coach Dennis Gates said he felt poor shooting from the field (35.6 percent Wednesday) bled into the defensive struggles.

“Texas A&M did a good job contesting shots, but we’ve had guys make those shots,” Gates said. “We ended up 7-for-31 from the 3-point line.”

The game will pit coaches in their first season with their programs. Gates is off to a strong start after being hired from Cleveland State, and Florida coach Todd Golden is finding his footing in the SEC after being hired from San Francisco.

Florida (9-7, 2-2) returns home on a two-game winning streak after posting a 67-56 win at LSU on Tuesday. The Gators won with defense, holding LSU to 32.2 percent from the floor while scoring 23 points off 16 LSU turnovers.

“We take a lot of pride in getting stops, especially on the road,” Florida guard Myreon Jones said. “Everybody is against us.”

Florida has held its last six opponents to under 40 percent shooting from the floor, going 3-3 during the stretch.

“It’s what our identity has become,” Golden said. “We felt like we could be good defensively but early on our transition was eating us up. When we made that conscious decision after (a trip to) Portland to really address that, we’ve been really hard to score on the past month and a half since then.”

Starting Florida center Colin Castleton has anchored Florida’s defense at the rim, leading the SEC in blocked shots with 3.1 per game. Castleton finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in Florida’s win at LSU and is averaging 14.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 blocks over his last three games.

The defensive mindset has allowed the Gators to overcome some cold shooting stretches. Florida is just 22 of 87 from 3-point range (25.3 percent) in its first four SEC games.

“We were missing some shots and that’s basketball, but the little things we were doing, rebounding, blocking out, winning the 50-50 balls, and that’s what wins you basketball games in the SEC,” Castleton said.

Florida is 5-3 at home this season and 4-1 all-time against Missouri at home. Missouri posted its first-ever win at Florida on March 3, 2021, edging the Gators 72-70.

–Field Level Media