Donovan turns focus to Auburn


Florida Alabama Basketball
Florida Alabama Basketball

Florida coach Billy Donovan shouts out instructions to his team during Tuesday night's game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The Tuscaloosa News
Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 10, 2008 at 12:11 a.m.

Florida proved Tuesday night it could survive being down on the road in the Southeastern Conference.

But Florida coach Billy Donovan does not want that to translate into a false sense of bravado heading into Saturday's SEC home opener against Auburn.

"I'm scared to death of this," Donovan said. "I've been around too many young teams who embrace it or think it's easy and don't handle it the right way. In this league, you've got to be able to take success and keep on an even keel."

Florida did some things well, some things not so well in its 90-83 SEC-opening win Tuesday at Alabama. The Gators rallied from down 10 points in the first half and seven points at halftime, but defensive and turnover problems could have buried Florida early.

Sophomore center Marreese Speights had issues matching up with Alabama junior forward Richard Hendrix. Speights was held to six points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes before fouling out with 1:45 remaining.

Hendrix finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds and it could have been worse. Hendrix missed nine free throws and finished 12-for-21 from the line.

"I told our team if we donít block out, Hendrix is going to set a free throw record for the SEC," Donovan said. "It seemed like he was at the free throw line the whole game."

Alabama swing-man Alonzo Gee presented problems on the perimeter, scoring 32 points by going 4-for-9 from 3-point range and 10-for-16 from two-point range.

"He probably needs to ice his arm down, getting all of those shots up," Donovan said. "We really didn't have an answer for them."

Somehow, Florida hung around, cutting the Alabama lead to 47-40 when freshman Jai Lucas hit a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer.

"That was a big shot," freshman guard Nick Calathes said. "It definitely gave us some momentum going into halftime. Bringing it to a seven-point game helped us a lot."

In the second half, Florida tightened on defense. The Gators held the Tide to 2-of-13 shooting from 3-point range in the second half after Alabama made six of its first 13 3-point attempts.

Florida's press forced turnovers in spots and kept the game up-tempo. With Donovan shuttling in nine players throughout the game, Florida seemed to wear Alabama down late, helping spark a game-deciding 11-0 run.

"We wanted to make the game an up-and-down game," Calathes said. "Our pressure wasn't really working in the first half. In the second half, we tightened up our pressure."

The Gators showed poise down the stretch, picking up a big basket late when Calathes found junior Walter Hodge for an open layup on a back-door cut. Florida made its free-throws late, finishing 21-of-26 from the line, compared to 15-for-26 for Alabama.

Overall, Florida passed its first SEC test in front of a hostile crowd. Young players like Calathes and Lucas matured quickly.

"It was everything I expected," Lucas said. "There was a packed house, we were on the road and we overcame adversity. It was big."

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