UF MEN'S BASKETBALL
Despite skid, Gators not in panic mode
Published: Saturday, January 24, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 24, 2004 at 12:09 a.m.
You didn't sense anything was wrong watching sophomore Anthony Roberson walk into the Florida basketball practice facility.
- Kevin Brockway
His head was up. A wide smile remained, even though there has been little to smile about the past six days.
"We have no choice but to be positive," Roberson said. "We can't let too much get us down."
Florida comes into its nationally televised game today against Auburn on a two-game losing streak, off its worst loss at home in almost five years. Panic? This is a Florida team that's still 11-4, with all four losses coming against teams that have been ranked in the Top 25 at some point during the regular season.
But it's also a young team that has been exposed in recent games, a team with holes in its press and a halfcourt defense that's been as problematic.
Florida coach Billy Donovan is preaching patience during the stretch, as he did during a two-game losing streak to Maryland and Louisville earlier this season.
"Sometimes people want to define your season on one or two games, and I just think that's unfair," Donovan said. "The thing needs to play itself out. Going into the Mississippi State game, we've only played three conference games. We've got a lot of guys who don't understand what it's like.
"It's a mental, physical and emotional grind when you've got to go Tuesday or Wednesday to Saturday. It's a grind, but with a young team, they're trying to figure it out."
Sophomore forward Christian Drejer practiced Friday and is expected to return to the lineup after sitting out Florida's 79-68 loss to Mississippi State with a bruised back.
Without Drejer, Florida started freshman Lee Humphrey and had to rely on more freshmen off the bench. Freshman Ryan Appleby saw more minutes at point guard because Drejer backs up Roberson at point guard. Freshman Mohamed Abukar also was pressed into more playing time.
"When you make a substitution, and you bring one freshman out and another freshman in, it's a bit difficult," Donovan said.
Florida has a bench of four freshmen, two sophomores and a walk-on. The four freshmen went 0-for-9 from the floor in Florida's loss against Mississippi State.
"This is going to be a growing process for this team," Donovan said. "That's the reality of it. And I still think that we can be a good team. I think that we have the opportunity to beat anybody on our schedule, and I think anybody has the potential to beat us."
If Donovan is looking for any sympathy, he won't get it from Auburn coach Cliff Ellis. Auburn has spent much of the season without starting point guard Lewis Monroe, who broke his leg during the preseason. Monroe recently returned to the lineup but still isn't 100 percent.
"I know the feeling," Ellis said when asked about Drejer's injury. "What happens is that chemistry changes. Drejer goes down for them at Vanderbilt and they lose by double-digits and they lose against Mississippi State. You'd like to have every team healthy for every game, but it just doesn't work that way."
Roberson viewed today as a must-win game. Donovan was more cautious.
"It's just a different end of spectrums that people go through, and I don't go there because I've been through it long enough and understand the league," he said. "If I'm worrying about how we dealt with previous teams, where we're going in the future, I can't worry about that right now.
"The bottom line is, if we don't win or do win, we still have to get ready for Alabama."
Roberson, who has led Florida in scoring in three of its past five games, stressed keeping a positive attitude.
"Our games have come at a time where we can learn from them," he said. "That's all we've got to do: Learn from them and move forward."
Kevin Brockway can be reached at 374-5054 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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