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Feb 9, 2024 9:43 am

No. 12 Auburn to lean on veteran forwards vs. Florida

Jaylin Williams

Size and experience have helped vault No. 12 Auburn into a share of first place in the Southeastern Conference.

The Tigers hope both attributes come in handy again when they visit Florida on Saturday afternoon in Gainesville.

Auburn (19-4, 8-2 SEC) is coming off Wednesday’s 99-81 home win against No. 16 Alabama, a game that hinged on big nights from veteran forwards Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome.

Williams (26 points) and Broome (24) helped the Tigers to a plus-14 advantage in points in the paint. The two players also combined for 13 rebounds as Auburn was plus-seven on the glass in winning its third straight game after back-to-back losses.

It’s a familiar and successful formula for the Tigers, who have collected more points in the paint than their foes in all but two games this season and are 13-1 when winning the rebounding battle, including 5-0 in league play.

“Being patient inside, that’s our game,” Williams said.

There’s no argument from Tigers coach Bruce Pearl, whose team is in a three-way tie with South Carolina and Alabama atop the conference standings thanks in large part to the success of Williams and Broome.

“They were both able to score through contact,” Pearl said. “They’re both unique because we were able to switch and guard Alabama’s guards with our bigs.

“I think we have one of the better front lines in our league. I think Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome could get some discussions about (top) front lines in the country right now.”

Florida is eager to erase the memory of a frustrating 67-66 road loss to Texas A&M last Saturday.

“Playing one of the better teams in the SEC, it’s a game we feel like we should have won,” said Zyon Pullin, who led the Gators with 18 points and eight assists. “They just made more plays than we did. We didn’t come out in the second half and execute well enough on both ends.”

Florida (15-7, 5-4) knows it must improve its consistency and execution down the stretch. After Pullin’s jump shot gave the Gators a 66-64 lead with 3:04 remaining, Florida didn’t score again as its four-game winning streak ended.

In the Gators’ previous game, Walter Clayton Jr. hit a career-high seven 3-pointers Wednesday to key a 94-91 overtime win at 10th-ranked Kentucky that marked Florida’s first road win against a top-10 foe since 2003.

Saturday will bring the chance for Florida to earn its first home win vs. ranked competition this season. The Gators lost 87-85 at home to then-No. 6 Kentucky on Jan. 6, committing 11 turnovers.

Last Saturday, ball security also was a concern against Texas A&M, as Florida had 14 turnovers. The Gators had 12 giveaways in their other game against a ranked team this season, a 95-91 loss to then-No. 13 Baylor in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York on Nov. 24.

While Florida has won 14 of its past 18 games against Auburn, the Tigers have regrouped in recent years, winning four of seven. The past two games between the schools have been decided by four combined points.

–Field Level Media

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