No time to relax for UF

Published: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 1:59 a.m.
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Florida's Matt Walsh goes up for a shot in the first half against Kansas, Friday, Nov. 29, during the Pre-Season NIT Consolation Game at New York's Madison Square Garden. Florida defeated Kansas 83-73.

(AP Photo/Chad Rachman)
NEW YORK - While the Florida basketball team was in a celebratory mood following Friday night's 83-73 win over No. 2 Kansas in the Preseason NIT, it's a safe bet Billy Donovan has a laundry list of items to try to keep his team grounded.
After playing five games in 10 days, the road ahead gets a bit easier for the Gators (4-1) this week, but Florida likely won't be able to sit back and relax until just before the Christmas holidays.
The Gators still have two road games standing between them and a return to the friendly confines of the O'Connell Center. Florida travels to face West Virginia at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Civic Center in Charleston, W.Va. Three days later, Florida State hosts the Gators in Tallahassee. While the Mountaineers and Seminoles shouldn't pose the test that Stanford and Kansas did, any road game can be dangerous, even for the No. 7 team in the country.
In the meantime, Donovan has several issues he will have to address with his team in the upcoming days. The two biggest concerns are rebounding and free-throw shooting, things that may not prove to be the difference against West Virginia and Florida State, but could be a bigger issue when the schedule heats up in two weeks when Florida plays at Maryland on Dec. 14.
The Gators were fine on the boards through the first three games, but against teams with stronger frontcourts like Stanford or Kansas, some of Florida's weaknesses were clearly exposed.
"We got absolutely annihilated on the backboard, and we were annihilated at the free-throw line," Donovan said.
Florida was able to make up for the lack of rebounding by forcing opponents' frontcourt players outside to try to stop the Matts, Walsh and Bonner, from shooting 3-pointers.
"It was something the coaches were looking to exploit," Bonner said. "For some reason I was blind in seeing that. Once I got in the mindset of doing that, I saw that it could be done and that opened a lot more things on offense."
Walsh and Bonner have been the biggest reasons why Florida is off to a hot start. Through five games, Walsh has not had a bad game offensively, scoring 16 or more points every night. The freshman leads the Gators in scoring, steals, assists, field goal percentage and 3-point shooting. He is also tied for second in rebounding.
"I just try to play, but it's my teammates who are giving me so much confidence," Walsh said. "When I miss a shot, they don't come over and tell me to pass it off. They just let me know that I'll hit the next one."
Walsh isn't the only freshman who has impressed so far this season. Anthony Roberson is the team's second-leading scorer, and he rebounded nicely after a 1-for-13 shooting performance against Stanford to hit three key 3-pointers in the win over Kansas.
"I was a little concerned with how some of our younger guys would respond coming off a loss," Donovan said. "With Matt Bonner, Brett Nelson and Justin Hamilton, I felt like I knew what I was going to get, but with the younger guys I just didn't know."
Now Donovan can only hope his team can take the victory over Kansas, one of the biggest wins since he took over at Florida, and continue to evolve.
"I'm pleased and happy with the way our kids have competed and played," Donovan said. "We're certainly not playing our best just based on injuries and lack of experience. But I think all of this should just help our team as we move forward."
Dylan B. Tomlinson covers UF men's basketball for The Sun. You can reach him by calling 374-5054 or by e-mail at

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