Surviving an early test


Florida freshman Anthony Roberson drives to the basket Saturday against Georgia. Roberson scored 23 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

ROB C. WITZEL/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 13, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 11:08 p.m.

When Florida coach Billy Donovan looked at the way his team was going to open Southeastern Conference play this season, it would have been easy to think the schedule makers weren't doing the Gators any favors.

Facts

Remaining schedule

Wed. Tennessee
Sat. at S.Carolina
1-22 Vanderbilt
1-28 at LSU
2-1 Arkansas
2-4 at Kentucky
2-8 Alabama
2-12 Ole Miss
2-15 at Tennessee
2-17 New Orleans
2-22 at Vanderbilt
2-25 S. Carolina
3-1 at Auburn
3-4 at Georgia
3-8 Kentucky

The opener against No. 7 Mississippi State in Starkville certainly looked like the toughest road game Florida would face against an SEC West opponent. The first home game was vs. No. 20 Georgia, a team which has given the Gators more than their share of headaches, even at the O'Connell Center.

Now Florida sits at 2-0 and as impressive as the conference start has been, what is really beginning to catch people's attention is how the Gators have been able to win.

In both games Florida rallied from second-half deficits. In both games the Gators have had different players provide the offensive muscle. Matt Bonner has been incredibly steady with 16 points against Mississippi State and 15 against Georgia. In the opener, it was senior Justin Hamilton who provided the offensive punch. Saturday, freshman Anthony Roberson was the hero, scoring 23 points and hitting a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The schedule gets a bit kinder this week with Wednesday's game against Tennessee and Saturday's game at South Carolina, but no team in the SEC, with the possible exception of Arkansas, is an easy win. The opening week of SEC play saw No. 4 Alabama fall at Vanderbilt and No. 7 Mississippi State lose both its games. The only teams to get through the first week unscathed were Florida, Kentucky and Auburn.

The best news for the Gators is that Christian Drejer, the talented freshman from Denmark, is expected to make his regular-season debut Wednesday against Tennessee. Drejer has been cleared to play since before the Mississippi State game, and has dressed for both SEC games.

Donovan said last week Drejer would be evaluated after the Georgia game to determine whether he would play against the Volunteers. Members of Drejer's family are in Gainesville, which should be a pretty good indicator that he will play sometime this week.

  • STREAKS AND STUFF: Florida has won nine straight games, the longest streak in the SEC. The school record for consecutive wins is 14, set last season ... The Gators have won four straight against ranked opponents ... After losing eight straight games decided by five or fewer points over the last two seasons, Florida has now won four straight, thanks to wins over Florida State, Maryland, Miami and Georgia ... Roberson averaged 12 points a game in the five games he started this season. In the 10 games since, he is averaging 15.2 points ...

  • SCOUTING TENNESSEE: The Volunteers (8-3) split their first two SEC games, a tight loss to Kentucky and an impressive win over Ole Miss in Oxford. While the Rebels aren't exactly world beaters this season, they had won 20 straight at home, including 15 straight over SEC opponents.

    Forward Ron Slay has been one of the SEC's best players this season. Slay leads the conference in scoring at 22.0 ppg, and is third in rebounding at 8.3 rpg. Florida has won the last four in the series against Tennessee, but the last three games have been decided by six points or fewer.

    You can reach Dylan B. Tomlinson by calling 374-5054 or by e-mail at tomlind@gvillesun.com

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