Ryan Boatright

UConn guard Ryan Boatright says No. 15 Florida will be a big early season test for the 13th-ranked Huskies. (Cloe Poisson / Hartford Courant / November 26, 2013)

STORRS — UConn and Florida did not have to play this game. It's not a league thing, not a tournament thing.

They've called each other out.

"It's going to come down to a grown-man basketball game," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said after practice on Sunday. "They're going to throw it off the backboard and they're going to go get it. We've got to meet that challenge, and we've got to accept the challenge."

"It's a great opportunity for us. It's a ranked team and it's in our house. We want to protect our house and build on what we've already created."

The Huskies (7-0) are ranked 13th, the Gators (6-1) are 15th going into this marquee nonconference matchup at Gampel Pavilion on Monday night at 7 p.m., part of "Big Monday" on ESPN 2. Neither program has assembled a schedule designed to play it safe and preserve a ranking or record. Rather, both have schedules designed to get them ready for the challenges of the postseason.

"We're getting tested early," UConn's Ryan Boatright said. "We're getting tested to show our will and our execution at the end of games in order to win big, close games. The more we do that early in the season, and if we prevail and come out with those wins, the better we're going to be when we get closer to March."

The schools have met only once, with Florida winning in OT in the 1994 NCAA Tournament, but they have between them five national championships in the past 15 years. They signed on for this home-and-home series during the summer, and the Huskies, who have won 40 consecutive nonconference games at Gampel Pavilion, and who normally play games like this at the larger XL Center, chose to subject the Gators to their small, loud on-campus court and put that streak on the line.

"It's going to be crazy," Boatright said, "Ranked teams, at Gampel — it's ridiculous. The students have been waiting on a game like this at Gampel … it's going to be exciting."

Next year, UConn will have to go to Gainesville, Fla. This year matches teams that look fairly even on paper. Florida started slowly, losing at Wisconsin on Nov. 12. But point guard Scottie Wilbekin, averaging 7.5 assists, was reinstated from a suspension for Game No. 6 and the Gators have since looked much better, beating Florida State 67-66 on Friday night, a potential signature win.

"That was an important game for us — but because it was the next game on our schedule," said Casey Prather, Florida's top scorer with 19.1 points per game. "We're hungry. We know it's a long season and it's going to be a process."

"We have a lot of experience, and we understand when we get out there, it's going to be our team against their team, it's not going to be us against the crowd."

Prather says this is "a very special time" for him. His first three years at Florida were limited by injuries. As a senior — one of four in Florida's lineup — he has become a force, versatile, athletic and determined at 6 feet 6.

"He's a slasher," Ollie said. "He gets to the paint, and he gets there with force and authority. He's not just going in there to make a play, he's going in there to embarrass people. We've got to stand up to that challenge."

Prather, who scored 19 against FSU, and guard Michael Frazier II, who is shooting 53.7 percent on three-point attempts, figure to pose matchup problems for UConn, but Ollie has grad-student transfer Lasan Kromah, also 6-6, to help DeAndre Daniels and Omar Calhoun when a hot shooter needs to be cooled off. The Huskies have held opponents to 36 percent shooting from the floor, but their rebounding inconsistency tempers that stat.

UConn's guards, Boatright, Shabazz Napier and Omar Calhoun, will be the challenge for Florida's defense, thinned with DeVon Walker, a 6-6 swing man, hobbled by a foot injury.

"Shabazz Napier is one of the elite point guards in the country," Florida coach Billy Donovan told reporters Sunday in Gainesville, "but it's not only him. They have three guys, they can put the ball in their hands and they can make plays. Our big guys are going to have to help out, we're going to have to do a good job of shrinking the floor."

The Huskies have beaten ACC opponents Maryland and Boston College, and Indiana of the Big Ten, all games decided by one or two points. Florida finishes a grueling December stretch with a game against Kansas on Dec. 10.

"When you play games like this, you find out a lot about your team," Donovan said. "You find out what you need to do better. There are certain things that will be exposed in games like this."

That's true for both sides. … But, then again, both sides have asked for it.

"It's a great moment," Ollie said, "that we have to seize."