UF hoops defense presses issue


Published: Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 11:53 p.m.

After struggling to generate offense in the halfcourt against Auburn's swarming defense, Florida coach Billy Donovan turned to an old standby.

The full-court press jump-started Florida in the second half of its 72-56 win against Auburn on Saturday.

Florida forced six turnovers in the first seven minutes of the second half, with the press forcing several Auburn miscues. The Gators forced two quick turnovers with the press during a 7-0 run that extended the lead to 40-32, then followed it up by forcing a 35-second violation on a possession that began with full-court pressure.

"I thought our press was effective today," Donovan said. "We were very disruptive. We seem to have matured after the Alabama game. We've embraced it and are beginning to figure it out."

For the game, Florida forced 19 turnovers. Freshman guard Jai Lucas came up with a big steal off the press in the first half, leaping toward the sideline to intercept an Auburn in-bounds pass.

The press also allowed Florida to pick up the tempo and wear Auburn down late.

"I think it helps our team go up-and-down, tires the opponent," Florida freshman guard Nick Calathes said. "That's the way we want to play."

Mitchell starts

A foot injury to sophomore forward Dan Werner led to the first change in the Florida starting lineup this season.

Sophomore forward Jonathan Mitchell replaced Werner for his first career start.

Mitchell had a rough initiation to starting when Auburn forward Quan Prowell drove past him on a three-point play for the first basket of the game. But the 6-foot-7 Mitchell settled down, finishing with four points, two rebounds and a blocked shot in 16 minutes.

Werner, who suffered a strained ligament above his right foot earlier in the week, still played 30 minutes off the bench and finished with 11 points and five rebounds.

"It first bothered me the morning after the Alabama game," Werner said. "I couldn't practice, but I rode the bike. It didn't really bother me much during the game."

Donovan said he was surprised with Werner's production.

"I really didn't know what to expect," said Donovan, who later joked. "I hope he doesn't think the rest of the season is miss practice, ride the bike and play in the games."

Etc.

Florida posted its first sellout of the season, drawing 12,012 fans to the O'Connell Center on Saturday afternoon. ... The Gators won their seventh straight Southeastern Conference home opener. ... Sophomore center Marreese Speights extended his consecutive free-throws made streak to 16 with a two-for-two afternoon Saturday.

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