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Florida vs. Texas A&M, Game Thread: Can Gators find heart in Texas?

Florida having one of its slow starts against Texas A&M might be bad — and already has been.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

A lot can happen in a couple of weeks in college basketball. Florida and Texas A&M are proof.

When the Gators and Aggies met up in the first week of January in Gainesville, both teams were looking for solid footing in the SEC and in pursuit of NCAA Tournament berths. A&M staked a claim to that on that Wednesday night, physically outmatching the Gators — forcing 20 turnovers and grabbing 10 steals and 13 offensive rebounds — in a 66-63 win that left Florida at 0-2 in the SEC and gave the Aggies their first conference win.

On this Wednesday night, those teams seem far more stable — and successful, Florida has not lost since that game just two weeks ago, obtaining wins over Georgia, LSU, and Missouri — all teams that had double-digit wins in non-conference play — in its last three outings. And neither has A&M, which has now reeled off six straight wins and won its first four SEC clashes — two of them over the same LSU and Missouri teams that Florida handled, and one a rout of Kentucky-slaying cellar-dweller South Carolina.

While neither the Gators nor the Aggies are anywhere near tournament locks at this point, they have certainly made progress in the month of January.

What Florida hasn’t made progress on, though, is its slow starts. The Gators have fallen into significant holes early on against each of their last four opponents, reprising the stumbling after tipoff that doomed them against West Virginia and UConn back in December, and while it has not been fatal to their chances of victory — Florida is 3-1 in those last four games, and has not been down by more than three points at halftime since trailing A&M by 11 — that lethargy has made life harder than it has needed to be.

The Gators will obviously hope to avoid that in College Station, but must once again steel themselves for the Aggies’ physicality, as Buzz Williams’s bunch is a crew of board-crashing, foul-drawing maniacs. Florida — which, again, yielded 13 offensive rebounds to A&M — has done the best job of any team of keeping the Aggies off the offensive glass of late, with the pounding of Carolina for a staggering 20 offensive boards just one of five times in six tries that A&M has rebounded at least 38 percent of its misses. The Aggies also took 32 free throws — and just 45 shots from the field — against Missouri, as the press- and pressure-happy Tigers committed 29 fouls.

But Florida got hit by that combination already, and almost pulled out that game; it’s also better now, seemingly, than it was two weeks ago, having put together a few fine performances in sequence. It probably cannot endure A&M doing its usual mauling and making shots — something the Aggies have done very well in their last two games, connecting at about a 44 percent rate from three — but it can beat these Aggies with an effort like its last three.

What remains to be seen is if the Gators have the heart necessary to summon that on the road against a team that is feeling itself. Starting with a good start would help.