UF basketball looks for quality road victory

Published: Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 3, 2010 at 1:10 a.m.

The swagger from November is gone, replaced with uncertainty during a shaky December that exposed some weaknesses.

But as Florida (10-3) opens the new decade today at North Carolina State (10-3), there is hope that a strong performance against a significant non-conference opponent will restore some confidence.

“You want to go out and play well, but at this point, it's important for us to get the win as well,” Florida senior forward Dan Werner said.

Werner could have been wearing an opposing uniform for today's matchup between the two schools. Werner signed a letter of intent to play at North Carolina State, but re-opened his recruitment when former coach Herb Sendek left for Arizona State.

“I toured the arena, they showed me the locker rooms,” Werner said. “I saw the (North Carolina State) program from the inside but now I'm excited to be coming there from the outside.”

The game will mark the final tuneup for Florida before Southeastern Conference play opens Jan. 9 at Vanderbilt. The Gators have one more non-conference game scheduled Feb. 13 at home against Xavier.

“I think when you look at our non-conference schedule, it's been challenging,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “But there is no question that the next 18 games we face, every one of those opponents is capable of beating us on any given night.”

Florida's gameplan will center around containing North Carolina State power forward Tracy Smith. The 6-foot-8, 247-pound Smith, a physical presence inside, leads the Wolfpack in scoring (17.2) and rebounding (9.1).

“They play a very deliberate style, but if you look at their percentages, they take and make a lot of high percentage shots,” Donovan said. “Smith has great hands and is tough around the basket.”

Werner said Florida will take a team-defense approach in containing Smith.

“It won't be as much one-on-one as it will be five-on-one,” Werner said.

Florida is concluding the second year of a home-and-home series with North Carolina. Last year, behind 32 points from former point guard Nick Calathes, the Gators rallied from down 10 points at halftime to beat the Wolfpack 68-66 at the O'Connell Center.

The game also will mark Florida's first trip to the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., since losing 75-60 to Manhattan in the first round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

Donovan said that other big-name home-and-home series are in the works, including discussions with Connecticut. But Donovan said that fans don't realize how hard it is to lure big names from other major conferences.

“When you take a look at a conference like the Big East, where you have 18 or 20 conference games, the last thing they are going to want to do is go on the road against another BCS conference opponent,” Donovan said. “There is more of a chance of getting games like that on a neutral floor. It has to be a situation where it makes sense for us and it makes sense for the other team.”

Injury updates

Donovan said that sophomore guard Ray Shipman remains questionable for today's game against the Wolfpack with a kneecap injury.

“We worked him out (Thursday) and he did OK,” Donovan said. “He's able to walk without pain and he wasn't walking without pain Wednesday before the Presbyterian game. If he tweaks it again, we'll hold him out.”

The news was not as encouraging for sophomore center Kenny Kadji. Kadji has appeared in just one game since Dec. 1 with what has been diagnosed as a herniated disc in his lower back. Donovan said Kadji has already received two anti-inflammatory injections.

Kadji is awaiting a third injection before attempting to resume physical activity. If the pain in his back persists after the third injection, Donovan said Kadji would have the option of exploring surgery to repair the disc, which is sitting on a nerve.

“I feel bad for him,” Donovan said. “He's incapable of doing the things physically at this point, running, jumping. It would be safe to say that we wouldn't be expecting any contributions from him for at least the next two weeks.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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