A Senior moment

Published: Tuesday, January 30, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 30, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Senior center Chris Richard didn't anticipate anything out of the ordinary when he stepped into Florida coach Billy Donovan's office last week.

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Senior forward Chris Richard (32) has re-emerged in his last two games.

Sun file photo

Richard knew he was coming off a poor game against Ole Miss but didn't know how bad it was until he viewed tape comparing that game with better games from his past.

"It's tough at first because you think you're doing everything the right way, and you think you're doing enough," Richard said.

Richard responded with two straight strong games off the bench, averaging 8.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in road wins against Auburn and Mississippi State.

Donovan is hopeful it's a sign of things to come. Florida (19-2, 6-0 SEC) retained its No. 1 ranking Monday for the third straight week. The Gators next play Wednesday at home against Vanderbilt.

"Chris has done a nice job," Donovan said. "The last two games, his aggressiveness, he was alert, he was reacting, he was chasing balls on the backboard. I thought he made an impact."

Richard had struggled through his first four Southeastern Conference games, averaging 3.0 points and 2.7 rebounds. Against Ole Miss, the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Richard grabbed just one rebound in 13 minutes.

Donovan said the problems stemmed from Richard focusing on blocking out and not chasing the ball on missed shots.

"For whatever reason, he's been better at it the last two games," Donovan said. "It's helped our team. It's given us more depth. It's given us more energy. It's given us better offensive rebounding, better defensive rebounding."

Richard's renewed zeal for rebounding has translated into more opportunities to score.

"He's going to score if he chases the ball off the backboard like he's doing," Donovan said.

A former Florida Mr. Basketball from Lakeland Kathleen High School, Richard learned to accept a role off the bench last season when center Al Horford and forward Joakim Noah won starting jobs. As the first post player off the bench, Richard was able to provide important minutes and give the starters a rest.

Richard's role has magnified this season with the graduation of Adrian Moss. Before the season began Richard was dubbed "the best third big man" in America by assistant coach Larry Shyatt.

But Richard didn't realize how far his game had fallen off until he watched the tape.

"I wasn't playing as well as I should have been playing," Richard said. "So I took ownership of it."

Richard said part of the reason he didn't realize it sooner was because of his laid-back personality.

"That kind of hurts me sometimes but I don't know how to be any other way," Richard said. "That's how I've been my whole life. I think maybe I need to be more assertive and step up and speak and do a lot of that stuff a lot more, but it's almost too late for me, doing that. And me doing that could in some kind of way hurt the team because no one is used to me being that way."

Players hope a more aggressive approach on the court will help Richard develop some consistency down the stretch.

"He's not an aggressive-type personality, but he's going to need to be if we're going to make a run in the tournament like we want to," junior forward Corey Brewer said.

Said Donovan: "He's put two good games together. I'd like to see him put four, five, six in a row like that. But it's encouraging to see him respond the way he did for those two road games, being a senior."

As a senior, Richard said he would like to close his career with that level of consistency.

"It's gone by fast," Richard said. "I just felt like we just got finished with the 6 p.m. (fall) workouts, we just got back from Canada, and it's already almost over ... Senior day feels like it's going to be next week. We have to embrace this time and finish strong."

Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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