Gators get jump on SEC play

Florida forward Kevarrius Hayes dunks during the first half Dec. 21 against Arkansas-Little Rock at Exactech Arena. Hayes may get the start at center Thursday. (Rob C. Witzel/Staff photographer) Is it bowl season or basketball season?

Who: No. 25 Florida (9-3) vs. Arkansas (11-1)

When: 9 p.m. Thursday

Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, Arkansas

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 103.7-FM

No. 25 Florida will be part of an earlier-than-normal SEC basketball opening slate when it faces Arkansas Thursday night in Fayetteville, Ark.

The last time Florida played an SEC opponent before New Year’s Day was Dec. 10, 1988, when Chris Jackson led LSU to a 111-101 win over the Gators (Jackson scored 53 points, an O’Connell Center record that still stands). Overall, it’s the first time the league will play conference games in December since Vanderbilt hosted Mississippi State on Dec. 19, 1991.

The earlier SEC start is due to the league’s decision to move the SEC-Big 12 Challenge to the last Saturday in January. Florida will play at Oklahoma in its final non-conference game Jan. 29. The earlier SEC start could help Florida in one respect. Arkansas’ football team will be playing in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., earlier Thursday (5:30 p.m.) which may result in less fans and a less imposing atmosphere at 19,000-seat Bud Walton Arena.

Otherwise, Arkansas should present a tough early test in league play. The Razorbacks have won eight straight and are led by 6-foot-10 center and preseason conference player of the year Moses Kingsley. Through his first 12 games of the season, Kingsley has posted a pair of double-doubles and is averaging 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds.
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