Gator Nation watches hoops warily
Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 12:25 a.m.
The battle between the last two SEC Tournament champions — and after watching Georgia play Wednesday night it seems that much more incredible that the Bulldogs won it last year — turned into the Nick Calathes Show.
The sophomore guard’s triple-double elicited loud cheers and a standing ovation from those fans who hadn’t scurried home to miss the final five minutes of the this 83-57 seal-clubbing. As Calathes left the floor, a student leaned over the railing and yelled, “Nick, I was your clerk at Best Buy.”
“My man,” replied Calathes.
It was Tebow-esque, everybody wanting a piece of a Florida star. And the bandwagon is starting to get a little more crowded. Florida has responded to the one-point loss to South Carolina with a pair of wins by a combined 51 points, albeit over weak teams, which has Gator fans optimistic and hoping there won’t be any deja vu sickness.
These Gators are 18-3, 5-1 in the SEC and tied for first place in the East. A year ago with that same overall record, they fooled us into thinking they were a lock for the NCAA Tournament. This year, the Gator Nation watches warily.
You can save the pats on the backs. You can hold the applause. Through 21 games, Florida has done the minimum necessary. The Gators haven’t beaten anybody they weren’t supposed to (although the win over Washington looks better than it did at the time) and have merely put themselves in position.
That’s fine. It’s what they do from this spot that matters.
“We know we can’t be complacent,” said Calathes. “We went through it (last year). I don’t think we’ll let it happen again.”
Everyone knows that last year’s Gators collapsed into the NIT a year ago. And again, the meat of the schedule, as Donovan has noted several times, lies ahead. There is no team in the SEC that really scares anyone, but four games against Kentucky and Tennessee will not be easy. Neither will road games at LSU and Mississippi State.
It’s right there for this team as it was a year ago. The difference is that last year’s team could only imagine what would go right and not what could go terribly wrong. This team should benefit from that experience as well as from the Catastrophe in Columbia.
“It’s yet to be seen,” said forward Dan Werner. “But I think we are (better equipped). We’re playing a lot better defense.”
It’s still a flawed team, but this is a league full of them. Now we see if the mental fatigue of a year ago has been spackled shut.
“I don’t think we’re the same team as last year,” Billy Donovan said. “The only thing that mirrors us is our record.”
Wednesday night was an example of why this team has a chance to avoid the issues of last season. The Gators forced their will on the Bulldogs, a meaty bunch of players who were sucking wind often during the game. Florida flew up and down the court like greyhounds blowing past St. Bernards.
Florida forced 17 turnovers and forced Georgia to take 21 three-pointers when the Bulldogs had the advantage inside. Florida led by 12 at the half, then put the game away with a 12-4 run to start the second half.
The only thing in question from that point was whether Calathes would record UF’s third triple-double ever and whether the Bulldogs would get out of the 40’s. This was not a good team Florida beat as evidenced by their oh-for-the-SEC record so far. Maybe the Bulldogs are pacing themselves for Tampa.
So we’ll see. Donovan likes the way this team practices. He likes how this team is able to move forward rather than look back. It still needs to grow to avoid a repeat of last year.
“We have a lot of guys who went through it,” said Chandler Parsons. “Some guys looked ahead to some games, thought that because we are Florida we’d get into the NCAA Tournament.”
We all know it doesn’t work that way. But if you work hard enough, it will come to you.
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