Visiting Razorbacks are on a roll


Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
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Florida senior Chris Richard, who logged 20 minutes off the bench Saturday against Georgia, brings added muscle inside when Joakim Noah or Al Horford need a breather on the sidelines.

The Associated Press

Facts

Arkansas at Florida

  • When: 7 tonight
  • Where: O'Connell Center
  • TV: ESPN

  • At the midpoint of the regular season, Florida is ranked second in the nation, leads the country in field goal percentage (54.2 percent) and is outscoring teams by an average margin of 26.6 points per game.
    Still, senior center Chris Richard sees areas where Florida can improve.
    "We still have a lot of things to clean up on defense and with execution in our sets," Richard said. "We still have a lot we need to do."
    Florida, which moved up a spot Monday to No. 2 in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, will get a chance to gauge its progress tonight in a nationally televised game against Arkansas.
    Certainly, the Razorbacks have Florida's attention. Arkansas (12-3) is coming off a 27-point home win Saturday against an Alabama team ranked No. 8 at the time.
    "Any team coming off a huge win like that, it certainly gives them a confidence boost coming in for the next game," Richard said.
    The atmosphere tonight at the O'Connell Center has the potential to be electric, if Florida wins the BCS football title game Monday night. Basketball-wise, Florida will look to build on its SEC-opening win against Georgia in its second straight league home game.
    At 14-2, Florida has shown flashes of being the dominant team that many expected when all five starters returned to defend the national title. Florida has won a season-high seven straight and has all five starters back after injuries and illnesses sidelined Al Horford and Corey Brewer earlier this season.
    Brewer missed three games after being diagnosed with mononucleosis and Horford missed two games with a high ankle sprain.
    "I like where our basketball team is at," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I like the way we played Saturday.
    "The biggest thing for us, and it's not our fault, because of some of our injuries early on, I don't think a lot of our younger guys have settled into roles yet because I think their roles have changed based on what's happened to some of our personnel. So I'm hoping we can become a little bit more cohesive with substitutions, how we're playing guys and get into a little bit more of a consistent routine."
    Donovan used all 11 of his scholarship players in the first half of Saturday's 67-51 win against Georgia. Sophomore guard Walter Hodge picked up two first-half fouls, and Donovan limited Horford to eight first-half minutes to keep him fresh in the second half.
    "You'd like to play eight or nine people on a continual basis, with your top five or six guys getting more of the minutes and other guys end up filling in, but sometimes you have to make adjustments," Donovan said.
    It's been a season of adjustments for Florida. Coming into the year as reigning national champions, the Gators have needed to match the higher energy levels of the teams they have faced this season. In losses to Kansas and FSU (by a combined six points), Florida fell behind early and couldn't catch up.
    Florida also trailed at halftime in recent games against UAB and Georgia.
    "It's definitely something we have to do a better job of," forward Joakim Noah said. "Even though every minute of a game is important, we're not coming out with the right energy."
    Offensively, it's been more difficult for Florida to feed the post because of the constant double-teams Noah, Horford and Richard have been facing.
    "To me that's a lot of respect for teams to have to double us," Richard said. "It's like they are scared of us because they won't play us one-on-one. We just have to take advantage of the double-team, kick it out to the open man, and keep playing they way we've been playing."
    Florida has maintained its scoring balance, with four starters averaging double figures and the fifth, senior guard Lee Humphrey, scoring 9.3 points per game.
    Defensively, Florida will have to contend with an Arkansas team that had four players reach double-figures in Saturday's win against Alabama.
    "Defense will always be the key to us," Richard said. "Points will come. We have a lot of weapons on our team. Just buckle down and play defense like we did last year. I think we'll be OK. "
    Florida also will look to solve its current free-throw funk. After making 22-of-26 important free throws in a 75-70 win against UAB, the Gators have been 24-for-48 in two games since.
    Noah, who was 2-for-6 from the line Saturday against Georgia, was aware of his current woes.
    "That's right where I'm headed," Noah said Monday. "I'm going to eat some pancakes and then get in the gym to shoot some extra free throws."
  • FREE THROWS: Noah, on resisting the urge to celebrate if Florida wins the national championship Monday night. "We've got no choice," Noah said. "When you step between the lines, there's no lying. People will know right away what happened."
    Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com
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