Gators more ready for SEC basketball this season?


Published: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 7:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 7:13 p.m.

Just like a year ago, Florida enters its Southeastern Conference opener today against Ole Miss with a 13-2 record.

This time around, though, the Gators should have a better idea what to expect.

"I think last year, we were young," Florida sophomore point guard Nick Calathes said. "We didn't understand how different it was, how difficult it was going to be each week."

Calathes, who earned SEC co-freshman on the year honors last season, is one of three returners looking to build off significant starting experience in the league. Junior forward Dan Werner and senior guard Walter Hodge also started in all of UF's SEC games last season.

Last season, Florida had no starters returning with starting experience, and it showed late. After getting off to a 5-1 start in SEC play, Florida went 3-8 in its final 11 league games, failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.

"It just shows that you have to be more focused, that nothing is guaranteed," Calathes said.

Defense was the main culprit for Florida's late meltdown last season. And while Florida coach Billy Donovan acknowledged that he's seen more effort on that end of the floor, it hasn't translated into results yet. Florida ranks 10th in the league in defensive field-goal percentage, allowing opposing teams to shoot 42.5 percent for the game.

"We're still a work in progress," Donovan said. "Our guys should have a better understanding of what's ahead of them, not to say that we're this super-experienced team, but a year ago we had absolutely no one maybe other than Walter able to guide them through it."

Ole Miss (9-5) comes to the O'Connell Center today with its own issues, having lost three key guards (Eniel Polynice, Chris Warren and Trevor Gaskins) to season-ending knee surgeries. Former Gator guard David Huertas, who transferred from Florida following the 2006 season due to playing-time issues, has carried the offense, scoring 20.1 points per game.

"He's kind of taken on the responsibility of leading the team and leading the offense and we need him to at this point," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.

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