UF has seen its share of adversity

Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
We keep wondering how this team will handle adversity, this shocking ship sailing along without a loss. What happens when the Go-Go Gators start taking on water?
When you're 15-0, you keep wondering. But in reality, you can face adversity on a basketball court within a game that you win by 15. That's what happened Wednesday night in the O-Dome.
"I think we've faced a lot of adversity," said senior Adrian Moss. "I think we've handled it so far."
You don't have to be coming off a loss to feel the pressure of dealing with the heavy black cloud that can come when nothing seems to be going right.
Against Mississippi State, Florida had plenty of problems. More turnovers than assists. Two players - one a starter - suffering from strep throat. Foul trouble for two other starters. An athletic young team with nothing to lose coming to your arena and taking aim at the target that is plastered on the backs of the No. 2 team in America.
Earlier this week, Billy Donovan talked about his team's current ranking and one that was laid on the Gators in the preseason by one publication. He said the Gators were probably somewhere between No. 2 and No. 75.
On Wednesday night, they were both. They started like the No. 2 team in the country, Corey Brewer's gravity-defying dunk setting everyone's hair on fire as Florida rolled to a 24-10 lead. They were running and gunning and looked stunning.
But over the second half of the first half, Florida played so poorly they allowed Mississippi State back into the game. During a 10-minute stretch, Florida scored one basket.
In the second half, No. 2 came back, Florida stretching its lead to 20. It wasn't a thing of beauty, but they faced the demon and beat it back.
"We had an off night," said guard Taurean Green. "But you have to find other ways to win when you do."
That's a mantra that Donovan has been hammering into his team - every team he has had at Florida. You never know if it takes. So far it has.
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury mentioned after the game what we keep hearing from talking heads on national broadcasts, that the players on this team seem to like each other. What's not to like about being undefeated, especially when nobody dreamed you'd be here?
It's easy to get along when you keep proving people wrong. But it doesn't mean it's always easy.
Please don't tell them a loss might do them some good because it would force this team to face adversity. Adversity is at Miami. Adversity is down 21-4 to FSU. Adversity was Mississippi State going on a 13-0 run to quiet the crowd.
That's all the adversity they want to experience right now.
"We like being where we are right now," said Brewer. "We don't want to lose."
So they didn't. They blocked shots and picked up second-half steals. They got another monster dunk from Brewer, a ton of free throws and pretty soon it was 60-40.
This was hardly the best these Gators have played. But with Al Horford woozy and Joakim Noah perhaps feeling a little of the hype that has come his way and Green getting chippy with Mississippi State players and the foul trouble and everything else, they still sent the crowd home early and happy.
"That we beat them by 15 is remarkable," said Donovan.
They did because Moss stepped in when Horford was finding it difficult to swallow as did Chris Richard. The two combined for only 10 points and eight rebounds but that was exactly what the Gators needed.
And Donovan got exactly what coaches love to see halfway through a season - a victory that leaves plenty of room for critique.
This team is going to lose a game. We know it's coming. And, other than serious injury, that is still the purest form of adversity.
But it doesn't mean the Gators aren't taking any punches.
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053.

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