It wasn't pretty until the end


Published: Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Stop me if you've read this already this week.
Florida's basketball team starts fast, then suddenly grinds to an offensive halt as nothing seems to go right, struggles to solve a zone defense but gets enough defense and free throws down the stretch to put away an athletic but inexperienced team.
I guess this is the week of living dangerously.
The Gators went 2-0 to go 16-0, handling a pair of Southeastern Conference West teams at home by double-digit margins. On Saturday night, it was an Auburn team trying to rebuild from an NCAA mess with a team filled with point guards and small forwards.
One would think that would mean a blowout for the home team, considering that one of Florida's strengths is its inside game. But balls kept bouncing around the rim and out, sending a nervous wave sweeping through the O-Dome.
"I've never seen our team miss as many easy baskets," Billy Donovan said.
But they did, and as a result Auburn would not go away. The Tigers led with seconds remaining in the first half, and you knew this was not going to be easy unless the big guys started putting the ball in the basket.
"I think this was the worst we've ever played," said junior Chris Richard, referring the the frontcourt. "Sometimes, maybe we play too pretty. We just need to go up and dunk the ball."
Pretty it was not, but the result was the same as all of the other UF games this season. Another win, another team throwing something different at them (this time switching zone defenses), another second half where the game was put away.
This is getting monotonous. Deliciously monotonous.
Because it is clear that this team enjoys the taste of being unbeaten, that sweet elixir that can be both exhilarating and debilitating depending how you handle it.
"We know we can play a lot better," guard Taurean Green said. "We've got some things to work on, and once we get them down we're going to be tough to beat."
They already are. But when you haven't lost, victories take on a different life. Suddenly, you're graded on style points. People tune in to see just how good you are, and if you aren't spectacular they start looking down the schedule for the dream to end.
Maybe it's at Tennessee or against Kentucky. I mean, the Wildcats can't continue to stink it up, can they?
Florida will lose a game this season. Still, it's clear that these guys not only don't want that to happen but are taking the right approach to keep it from happening for as long as possible.
The polls, what we write, what people say - forget it. Today is what matters. Then tomorrow.
"This is a unique group of kids," Donovan said. "They stay focused on winning. They don't talk about the past. Where they are ranked, what is written, it's not real, it's not fair and it's not true."
What is true is that Florida's balance - with five starters averaging in double figures - is causing opposing coaches a lot of headaches. They don't know where the run is coming from. On Saturday, it came from Richard, a reserve.
It came from forced turnovers and 10 blocked shots.
"They are big and they are long," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "We're bigger than we were last year, but we don't have the size to simulate that in practice.
"They're a good team, and good teams find a way to win."
Beating two SEC teams at home - two teams with a combined one win so far in the conference - isn't what this season will be remembered for when it's all over. But it beats the alternative.
This week was about surviving as much as anything. They survived their two sharpshooters going 6 for 20 from the field Saturday. They survived what Donovan called "a lot of crazy plays."
Nobody's kicking them off the island this week.
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053.
Dooley's columns appear Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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