Gators better on the rebound


Florida's Nick Calathes (33) drives against Vanderbilt guard Jermaine Beal (0) in the first half on Sunday.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 1:09 p.m.

Florida proved in Sunday's rout against Vanderbilt that there was no hangover from its heartbreaking loss at the buzzer against South Carolina.

UF's 94-69 impressive road win against the Commodores wasn't enough to prevent the Gators from falling out of the Top 25 on Monday afternoon. But it showed a bounce-back mentality that could serve Florida well if it suffers another devastating loss in the future.

"There's experiences during the course of the year that can do two things," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "The experience can really bring your team together, or it can really divide your team. That's what conference play is all about."

Florida has yet to lose two straight games this season. Following its 89-83 loss against Syracuse, the Gators responded with an 86-84 win against Washington. Right now, that looks to be Florida's best non-conference win, considering the Huskies currently lead the Pac-10 conference.

In December, Florida regrouped from a 57-55 loss at Florida State to beat Florida Gulf Coast 94-60.

Last season, Gators rode a similar stretch into early February, starting 18-3 without a two-game losing streak before losing eight of their next 11 games.

So Florida junior Dan Werner was cautious when asked if he felt like this year's team was more resilient than last season.

"It's definitely too early to tell," Werner said. "Obviously we were making shots and when you're making shots everything looks good. If we weren't hitting those shots, we hit 12 3-pointers in the first half, would it be different? Probably."

Florida (17-3, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) is a late defensive breakdown shy of being undefeated in conference play. But the Gators have done it against teams that have combined for a 4-15 record in SEC games.

After Wednesday's home game against Georgia (9-10, 0-4 SEC), Florida will play its next three games against Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky, teams with a combined 11-3 record in the SEC.

"The road going forward is going to get more challenging and difficult," Donovan said. "How we handle it is going to be a key."

Last season, Florida lost four straight in late February and early March, its longest losing streak since 1998. The late meltdown caused the Gators to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1997-98 season.

"I would hope that what happened on Wednesday and then what happened on Sunday is a great case to really show humility," Donovan said.

FREE THROWS: Werner said Monday that he's been playing the last two weeks with an avulsion fracture on his right (shooting) middle finger. Werner also has been battling a jammed left thumb for much of the season. Asked if the injury was affecting his shooting, Werner responded: "I don't want to make any excuses so I would say, no, they both feel fine. They get hit and stuff and sore and stuff but they are both getting better." Since the finger injury, which Werner said first occurred Jan. 10 against Ole Miss, he's shooting 35.8 percent from the floor (11-31) and 33.3 percent from 3-point range (4-12).

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