Gators try to avoid trouble


Florida's Walter Hodge, right, goes to the basket against Ole Miss guard Will Bogan.

Brad McClenny/Special to Gatorsports.com
Published: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 12:49 a.m.

Within the first 13 seconds of last Saturday's game against Arkansas, Florida junior forward Dan Werner crashed the backboard after a missed shot.

Facts

Tonight's Game

Teams: No. 24 Florida (16-2, 3-0 SEC) at South Carolina (12-4, 1-2 SEC)

Tipoff: 7 p.m.

Site: Colonial Center, Columbia, S.C.

Local Radio: AM-850

Regional TV: FSN-Florida

Werner was trying to set an early physical tone despite the fact Florida came into the contest undersized. But the 6-foot-7 Werner wasn't in position to grab the rebound over 6-foot-10 Arkansas center Michael Washington.

Werner hacked Washington over the right shoulder, drawing a quick whistle for an over-the-back violation. It was the first of his two first-half fouls against the Razorbacks.

"I feel like I've been picking up some cheap ones," Werner said. "If I'm going to foul, I'd at least like to get my money's worth."

No. 24 Florida has remained undefeated in Southeastern Conference play despite the fact that Werner and senior Walter Hodge have been mired in foul trouble through the first three league games. As a result, Werner has averaged just 24.3 minutes per game in SEC play. Hodge has averaged 31.7 minutes per game in three league games.

The Gators (16-2, 3-0 SEC) will try to keep their two most experienced players on the court longer when they play tonight at South Carolina.

"The fouling has to do with two things," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "One is our guards getting beat off the dribble and our big guys having to step up. The other is due to our rotational blocking out."

Hodge, who picked up two first-half fouls in last Wednesday's game against Auburn, had more fouls (4) than points (3) last Saturday against Arkansas.

"We just came out a little over-aggressive," Hodge said. "I have to play a little bit smarter."

Donovan acknowledged he's been forced to depend on Werner more to guard the perimeter because of his experience and his ability to follow scouting reports. But in league play, Werner has had problems keeping players from the basket without hacking them.

It won't get easier tonight because South Carolina point guard Devan Downey is one of the quickest point guards in the league and has the ability to score from the perimeter and from driving to the basket.

"Dan will have to make some better judgments," Donovan said.

Werner admitted he's been frustrated by the early foul trouble and is still trying to figure out the fine line between playing aggressive and not drawing whistles. The decreased minutes has affected his production. Werner is averaging just 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in league games, down from the 10.2 points and 4.8 rebounds he averaged during the first 15 non-conference games.

"I think I can pick it up a lot," Werner said. "Hopefully I can do a better job of staying on the floor. It's hard to get into a rhythm when you are subbing in and out."

If there's been a positive to the foul trouble, it's allowed for the further development of freshman center Kenny Kadji and freshman guard Erving Walker. Kadji has averaged 10.5 points over his last two games. Walker has been a godsend, averaging 10.0 points in three SEC games while hitting big shots down the stretch against Auburn and Arkansas.

"He impacts the game with his defense, making a couple of big shots, and just playing tough," Donovan said.

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