Gators come home to Georgia


Florida returns home after a 67-56 loss at Tennessee on Saturday, UF's fourth straight road loss.

Published: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 12:16 a.m.

Coming off a 67-56 loss at Tennessee, Florida freshman guard Bradley Beal had an idea that Sunday's practice wasn't going to be pleasant.

Facts

Gator GameTime

Who: No. 19 Florida Gators (12-4, 0-1 SEC) vs. Georgia Bulldogs (9-6, 0-1 SEC)
When: 7 p.m..
Where:O'Connell Center, Gainesville
Gainesville TV: ESPN
Gainesville radio: 103.7 FM

But Beal said he knew practice was serious when Florida coach Billy Donovan put bubbles over the rims.

“Coach Donovan, he's got the pedal to the metal right now,” Beal said. “There's no more time for that baby stuff. So really we have to grow up and be men and just fight through it.”

The Gators (12-4, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) will look to respond from their worst defensive performance of the season tonight against Georgia. Florida, which dropped to No. 19 in Monday's AP Top 25 poll, allowed Tennessee to shoot 54.1 percent from the floor in the second half and 51 percent for the game.




“We didn't play hard at all, on both ends of the floor,” Beal said. “Our defense, we didn't play great help defense, we didn't guard the ball well. Our transition defense wasn't good. We had too many breakdowns during the game. I mean, it really cost us.”

As a result, Donovan shut down the rims to turn UF's focus to the defensive end of the floor.

“Tennessee in the game was a step ahead of us offensively than (where) we were defensively,” Donovan said. “We were always reacting out of weakness instead of strength. We weren't as alert as we needed to be. I think that was the biggest difference.”

Donovan said injuries over the holiday break to guard Mike Rosario and forward Casey Prather resulted in less intense practices heading into UF's 85-83 double-overtime loss at Rutgers. In that loss, the Gators allowed Rutgers to shoot 48.6 percent the floor.

Coming into the Tennessee loss, Donovan said he felt like the team had better practice intensity.

“For whatever reason, it didn't carry over into the game,” Donovan said.

Florida's high-powered offense (ranked sixth nationally and first in the SEC at 83.6 points per game) has masked some of its defensive deficiencies this season. The Gators rank 11th in the SEC in scoring defense (66.9 ppg allowed) and eighth in field goal percentage defense (41.9 percent).

“It's a mentality mostly,” said Florida junior forward Erik Murphy said. “You have to come out focused. Every possession, try to get a stop and work together as a group collectively. I think once we figure that out we'll be pretty good.”

Florida had a pair of practices on Sunday, combining film study and sweat to address its defensive issues.

“Those probably have been our best practices we've had all year from an intensity standpoint because everyone was focused and everyone was into it,” Beal said.

Donovan said he's confident that even playing three guards, the Gators will still be able to match up defensively through the grind of the SEC schedule. Despite its lack of size up front, Florida has been a good rebounding team this season. The Gators have out-rebounded 12 of 16 opponents and are second in the SEC in rebounding margin at plus-5.2.

“The defensive part of it has to be done collectively as a team as a group,” Donovan said. “I feel like our guys can do that. We've got to do a better job getting that done.”

FREE THROWS: Donovan said Prather is doubtful with an ankle injury. The 6-foot-6 sophomore didn't practice Sunday after injuring his ankle late in the Tennessee game. “We're going to try to throw him into practice (Monday) to see what he can get done,” Donovan said. “The trainer is not overly optimistic that he'll be able to be 100 percent.”

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Jr. 19.1 ppg, 3.1 apg

G Erving Walker 5-8 Sr. 13.4 ppg, 5.1 apg

G Bradley Beal 6-3 Fr. 14.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg

F Erik Murphy 6-10 Jr. 10.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg

C Patric Young 6-9 So. 12.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg

GEORGIA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Vincent Williams 6-0 Jr. 4.8 ppg, 2.0 apg

G Gerald Robinson Jr. 6-1 Sr. 13.6 ppg, 3.3 apg

G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 6-5 Fr. 14.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg

F Nemanja Djurisic 6-8 Fr. 6.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg

F Donte Williams 6-9 So. 7.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg

Notes: The Gators return home, where they are 8-0 this season. … Overall, Florida has won 14 straight at home, with its last loss in the O'Connell Center coming Jan. 15, 2011 vs. South Carolina (72-69). … Florida still leads the nation in 3-pointers made (176) and 3-pointers per game (11). … Georgia lost three starters from a team that finished 21-12 and reached the NCAA Tournament last season. … Senior guard Dustin Ware, a three-year starter, is coming off the bench. … Ware is third in Georgia in scoring, averaging 8.5 ppg while shooting 39.2 percent from 3-point range.

— Kevin Brockway

Three things to watch

Home sweet home

Florida returns home, where it has shot the ball better and taken care of the ball better throughout the season. In eight home games,Florida is shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 43 percent (89-207) from 3-point range with an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 2-1 (148-76). The Gators will look to continue that confident play at home this season.

Crashing the boards

Both Florida and Georgia lost their starting frontcourts during the offseason. But Georgia has had a tougher time regrouping inside than Florida. The Gators should have a big edge on the boards, entering the game with a plus-5.3 rebounding margin compared to Georgia's minus-1.8 rebounding margin. The key for Florida will be to take advantage of second-chance opportunities. Florida had 14 offensive rebounds against Tennessee, but converted them to just 7 second-chance points.

Which freshman will step up?

The Florida-Georgia matchup featured two of the top freshman guards in the SEC, Florida's Bradley Beal vs. Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Both played together in the McDonald's All-American game and Beal said the two are friends. Pope is coming off a career-high 22 point game against Alabama, while Beal struggled in his SEC debut, going 4 of 12 from the floor against Tennessee with 9 points and 5 turnovers. The freshman who steps up tonight could have a big impact in determining the outcome of the game.

Three questions

1. Can Florida play better defensively after allowing Tennessee to shoot 51 percent from the floor in its last game?

2. Can freshman guard Bradley Beal break out of a recent four-game slump?

3. Can Florida take advantage of favorable frontcourt matchups inside and convert second-chance baskets?

Go to Gatorsports.com after the game for Kevin Brockway's answers.

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