UF hoops hitting growth spurt


Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 14, 2008 at 11:38 p.m.

Shortly after Florida finished off Auburn with a late run Saturday afternoon, freshman guard Jai Lucas was asked about his team's undefeated start in Southeastern Conference play.

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Florida freshman guard Jai Lucas has come through in the Gators' first two SEC games.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun

"I'm not surprised," Lucas said. "I always thought that we were a little better than what people were giving us credit for."

At the midpoint of the 2007-08 season, Florida is 15-2, the same record it was during its second straight national title run last season. But even with the team's surprising 2-0 start in SEC play, there's still a long way to go to prove it belongs in the lofty status of its recent successful past.

Florida should get a better indication of where it stands when it faces No. 18 Mississippi on the road Wednesday, followed by a game against revived Kentucky on Saturday night at the O'Connell Center.

"I don't look at us being 2-0, 1-1, 0-2," Donovan said. "What really it comes down to is us getting prepared to play Ole Miss. If we're fortunate enough to be 3-0, it won't really have any bearing or any impact on getting prepared to play Saturday (against Kentucky) and if we're 2-1, it's not going to have any impact on us."

In both SEC wins, the Gators shot better than 50 percent from the floor, off-setting the fact that they were out-rebounded in both games by a combined total of 70-62.

"I'd like to see us continue to get better at both ends of the floor," Donovan said. "We're shooting a high percentage right now but sometimes that can camouflage some things. We're still making some really loud turnovers, momentum-changing turnovers."

Problems on the boards could continue Wednesday. Ole Miss, led by senior center Dwayne Curtis, ranks second in the SEC in rebounding margin in conference games. Florida ranks ninth.

Donovan is as concerned about how his frontcourt matches up with Curtis (6-foot-8, 262 pounds), starting forward Kenny Williams (6-8, 240 pounds) and senior forward Jeremy Parnell (6-8, 242), who comes off the bench.

"Maybe, more so than any team in our league, they have an incredible crop of frontcourt players returning that are physically experienced, athletic and can score," Donovan said.

Lucas said the strong start in SEC play has given Florida some confidence.

"I think we're starting to understand things a little bit better," Lucas said. "We've still got a lot to work on if we want to get to where we want to be."

Donovan has been pleased with how Florida has executed down the stretch. Florida closed its win against Auburn with an 11-0 run and had a late 11-0 run at Alabama that helped secure the road win.

"They have a belief about them," Donovan said. "They don't think they have it all figured out, but they have an internal confidence about them, they believe they can go out there and compete and play. I think you want guys that can try to make plays and be aggressive rather than being passive."

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