On the road again

No. 22 Gators travel to Alabama to take on Tide

Published: Tuesday, January 27, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2004 at 12:31 a.m.
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Matt Walsh and his Florida teammates tonight will be trying to win the first of two consecutive road games.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Florida sophomore guard Matt Walsh dubbed this week as "operation road kill," but picking up two straight wins on the road in the Southeastern Conference is not your typical lazy Sunday drive down U.S. Highway 301.
No. 22 Florida will begin a two-game, five-day road stretch tonight at Alabama's Coleman Coliseum, where the Crimson Tide are a perfect 9-0.
"We've got a tough stretch that begins tonight in Tuscaloosa," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We've just got to be focused on that right now."
The stretch will continue Saturday at Tennessee. Florida will return to campus late tonight, take Wednesday off and practice Thursday and Friday before flying off to Knoxville, Tenn., on Friday night.
"It's going to be two tough games on the road, two teams that play much better at home than they do on the road," Florida forward David Lee said.
History suggests Florida has managed to adjust to the travel grind. The Gators are 8-4 in their last six back-to-back conference road trips dating back to the 2000-01 season. They are 3-3 in the second game and 2-0 in games coming off overtime.
This season, Florida is 1-2 when facing opponents on their home courts, with losses coming at Louisville and Vanderbilt. The lone win its road game came in Florida's SEC opener against South Carolina. Florida also won three games played at neutral sites, against then-No. 3 Arizona, Central Florida and West Virginia.
"This league is very unforgiving," Donovan said. "If you don't play well it's difficult to win, home or road."
The difference on the road for Florida this season has been its defense. The Gators gave up a season-high 86 points in their loss at Vanderbilt and 73 points in their loss at Louisville.
The press, effective in forcing 16 turnovers in the first half in Florida's win Saturday at home against Auburn, was exposed in both road losses.
"Certainly, the crowd generates your team," Donovan said. "It's no different going to Alabama. Alabama's players are going to be ignited by their crowd, and we have to be able to find a way on the road to create our own level of energy, a little bit even more so than we have in the past.
"We've got to see how we're going to press. We have to make sure we have energy doing it. We have to make sure we don't give up easy baskets."
Walsh and Lee said players are starting to buy into the belief that defensive intensity is the only way they will be able to maintain a consistent run into March.
"It's just attitude," Walsh said. "Guys have realized this is what we have to do if we're going to win."
Alabama is coming off a 71-60 loss at Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide will likely be without leading scorer Earnest Shelton (15.5 pgg), who sprained ligaments in his knee last Wednesday in the Tide's win at Georgia.
Returning starting forward Kennedy Winston leads active players at 15.1 points per game. Sophomore forward Chuck Davis, a bench player as a freshman, is averaging 6.2 rebounds per game as Alabama's starting power forward.
"They're really playing well as a team," Donovan said. "Kennedy Winston is a guy that really has the ability to score in a lot of different ways, but also is making everyone around him better."
  • AWARD FINALIST: Lee was named one of 30 finalists for the John Wooden Award, given to the nation's top college basketball player.
    Lee is one of four SEC players remaining on the list. Kentucky guard Gerald Fitch, Mississippi State forward Lawrence Roberts, and Vanderbilt forward Matt Freije also are finalists.
    You can reach Kevin Brockway by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5054.
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