Gators get test today against N.C. State


Published: Friday, January 2, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 3, 2009 at 12:21 a.m.

With the advent of so many neutral-site games in college basketball, Florida coach Billy Donovan wanted to bring a quality opponent to Gainesville a week or so before his team began Southeastern Conference play. So, that’s what gave the Gators today’s nationally televised 4 p.m. game between UF (11-2) and N.C. State (9-2) at the O’Connell Center.

Facts

Today’s game

Who: Florida Gators (11-2) vs. North Carolina State Wolfpack (9-2)
When: 4 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center, Gainesville
TV/Radio: CBS, AM-850

“With non-exempt tournaments like the one we had earlier this year with Syracuse, Washington and Kansas and a couple of years ago when we went to New York and did something similar with Wake Forest, Syracuse and Texas Tech, it’s tough to get those home-and-home games with ACC, Big 10, Pac-10 type of teams that have really, really good programs,” Donovan said. “N.C. State’s got that, and we wanted to give our fans a game like that before we got started in the conference.”

Previous seasons have seen the Gators play home-and-homes with the likes of Michigan State, Louisville, Maryland and Ohio State, and next year, Florida will travel to Raleigh, N.C. for the back end of this arrangement.

This game could prove to be a critical test for UF in the paint with talented post players like Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson, Tennessee’s Tyler Smith and Vanderbilt’s A.J. Ogilvy looming in the SEC East.

The Wolfpack have three 6-foot-9 starters (forwards Brandon Costner and Dennis Horner and center Ben McCauley) who are all either juniors or seniors, and 6-8 sophomore reserve Tracy Smith scored a career-high 31 points in Wednesday’s 88-68 victory against Towson.

Smith, Costner, McCauley and 6-6 guard Courtney Fells all average double figures, and N.C. State is outrebounding opponents, 39.7-32.6.

The Gators also get balanced scoring with all five starters averaging between 8.2 points (senior guard Walter Hodge) and 15.7 points (sophomore guard Nick Calathes). Florida is outrebounding opponents by 2.5-a-game on average.

Still, Calathes said that while he likes his team’s direction during its current five-game winning streak, he pointed to being stronger on the boards as an area that needs improvement.

“I think probably we need to get a little tougher rebounding and on defense,” Calathes said. “But (overall), I think we’re doing (well).”

Defensively, the Gators have shown definite progress since the season started.

They’ve allowed 80-plus points just once since beating Washington, 86-84, on Nov. 25. That came in an 88-81 victory against Georgia Southern on Dec. 22.

And in its last outing Florida had its best statistical defensive performance of the season, holding Stetson to 29.6 percent shooting in a 78-57 win.

Like the Gators, the Wolfpack believe this will be a quality barometer heading into conference play.

“I feel like we’re ready for a dogfight if need be,” Costner said. “We’re just going to go out and play hard.

“Everything else will take care of itself.”

TIP-INS: Donovan will attend the BCS national championship game. He is scheduled to fly to Miami the evening of the game and back that night. ... Donovan said the biggest thing freshman center/forward Eloy Vargas needs to work his way through are jitters. Vargas has played in two games this season (the last two) after battling an injury in the early part of the season. Donovan added that freshmen post players often are used to being able to stand in one spot and either block or alter shots against high school competition, where in college they must be more aware of their surroundings and do more rotating. He said that also has been an adjustment freshmen Kenny Kadji and Allan Chaney have had to make.

Contact John Patton at 352-374-5074 or pattonj@gvillesun.com.

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