UF hoops looks for 2-0 SEC start
Published: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 11, 2008 at 11:11 p.m.
When Jai Lucas signed last May to join a highly rated Florida recruiting class, it raised some eyebrows.
Who:Auburn at Florida
When:Today, 12 p.m.
Local radio:AM 850, 103.7 FM
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Can Speights bounce back?
Sophomore Florida center Marreese Speights struggled in his SEC starting debut, finishing with six points and seven rebounds before fouling out late in the second half. Speights had problems handling Alabama center Richard Hendrix in the post, but should have a better matchup today against an Auburn team with no starters taller than 6-foot-8. Look for Florida to try to establish Speights inside early.
2. Auburn's quickness
Auburn makes up for its lack of size by spreading the floor and starting four guards, creating mistmatches on the perimeter. The Tigers rank second in the league in steals and will look to push the tempo and take 3-point shots. "They have maybe the fastest team in the league," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "They don't have enormous size but their speed and quickness has made up for it."
3. Home sweet home
Florida returns to the O'Connell Center, where it won all eight SEC home games last season. Florida's last home loss in the league came against Tennessee in February of 2006. The Gators are 21-3 at home in the SEC in the last three seasons.
4. Bombs away
Auburn took 35 3-point attempts, making nine in a 76-70 loss Thursday night against Arkansas. All five of Auburn's starters have range out to the 3-point line. Florida is coming off an 11-for-22 3-point shooting night against Alabama and has made 10.7 3-pointers per game since its last loss Dec. 22 at Ohio State. The Gators will need to defend the 3-point line well and make a few shots.
Auburn has a quick turn-around after losing to Arkansas in a nationally televised game Thursday night. With Korvotney Barber and Boubacar Sylla out with injuries, the Tigers will bring just seven scholarship players. Look for Florida to turn to its bench early and often in an attempt to wear Auburn down in the second half.
Florida already had its point guard in waiting in Nick Calathes, who had orally committed to Florida as a high school sophomore. Adding Lucas, another McDonald's All-American point guard from Houston, raised questions about which player would emerge to run the team.
Eight months later, Florida coach Billy Donovan has found a way to make it work. Calathes and Lucas are both starting as freshmen in the Florida backcourt. The freshman duo combined for 40 points and 12 assists in Florida's Southeastern Conference-opening win against Alabama.
Both will be counted on again today when Florida hosts Auburn in its SEC home opener.
"It's great chemistry," Lucas said. "I'm around Nick all of the time so we know each other really well."
That chemistry was fostered during the summer. Donovan held a meeting with the two biggest stars of his freshman class.
"Coach had a meeting with us and said he really wanted us to be like brothers on and off the court," Calathes said. "So that's really helped and got our team better."
The 6-foot-6 Calathes starts off the ball as more of a point-forward. Lucas, at 5-foot-11, begins games at the point but shoots and penetrates to the basket well enough to slide over to the wing.
"I think we definitely give mismatch problems," Calathes said. "We both can handle the ball and we both can really shoot and see the floor. So I think whoever gets the rebound can go with it and he can run the two (shooting guard) or I can run the two."
Off the court, Calathes and Lucas live in the same dorm, with their rooms connected to each other in a quad setup. Often, the two watch movies together or sometimes face off in PlayStation basketball.
"He's not really that good but he talks the most trash," Lucas said. "It's always fun to beat him because he always thinks he's so good and he's not good in video games."
Lucas said living together has helped create a bond.
"When you're around a person so much, you're going to know things about them that a lot of people really don't and I feel like that carries over to the court," Lucas said. "We can talk about anything. We hold nothing back from one another."
Both proved they could adapt quickly to the intensity of SEC play. Lucas hit a big 3-pointer at the end of the first half to cut the Alabama lead to seven, then followed it up by scoring 14 of his points in the second half.
Calathes nearly pulled off a triple-double with 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, including a big assist on a late Walter Hodge layup that helped seal the game.
Donovan said there's still room for his young backcourt to grow, noting that Calathes had five turnovers in the first half that nearly buried Florida before halftime.
"They competed," Donovan said. "They did a good job. The ball was in their hands a lot. They made pretty good decisions. I thought Nick was a little bit too careless with the ball, made five turnovers. We had 10 in the first half and he had half our turnovers.
"We did a little bit better job in the second half, but 17 turnovers is too many, we had 21 assists so I think we moved and passed the basketball."
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