Gators still have a gauntlet ahead
Published: Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 9:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 9:37 p.m.
Kenny Boynton finished off the last 25 seconds by dribbling the ball up the court and then between his legs several times. The streak of making a 3-pointer in every game would end at 34 straight games, five shy of Lee Humphrey's UF record.
To which I say, big deal.
“I didn't realize that,” Erving Walker said. “He'll just start another one.”
While there are lessons that still need to be learned by Billy Donovan's team, the one they have learned is that basketball isn't about streaks or statistics. It's about finding a way to put the ball in the basket more often than the other guy.
On Saturday night, Florida was not at its best. Playing after a week with no games and plenty of grueling practices, the Gators allowed LSU's Justin Hamilton to score 27 points, shot poorly from 3-point range (Boynton went 0 for 4) and had more turnovers than assists.
But the Gators had a good night at the free-throw line, shot 74 percent on shots that weren't 3-pointers and won the first half by forcing 10 turnovers in the first 15 minutes.
There was good and there was bad against a decent team, and when you added it all up, it resulted in a 12-point win. Florida won the rebounding battle but gave up 10 offensive rebounds. The Gators looked sharp in building a 16-point lead and sloppy in letting LSU back in the game.
“I was a little bit disappointed in that,” Donovan said. “They still have a lot to learn.”
On the other hand, Donovan feels like his team is “getting a better understanding of how to play with each other.”
Which is a good thing.
Because now it gets interesting.
The Gators made it through the first quarter of their SEC schedule in a virtual tie for second place in the league at 3-1 (Vandy is 4-1). They have won 15 of their 19 games so far.
All of that is very nice — good enough to be ranked in the top 20.
But the next dozen games will determine how this season goes. Florida will play Kentucky twice, Vanderbilt twice, Mississippi State, at Arkansas and at Alabama.
And it doesn't help that UF has a pair of Thursday-Saturday turnarounds because, well because Florida is not Kentucky, which gets preferential treatment from the league no matter how much the SEC wants to deny it. That's another story.
I asked Donovan on Saturday night if he thought his team was ready for the 12-game gauntlet that faces them and will determine so much about this season.
“You go one game at a time,” he said, “but if you look at it like 12 games, I'd say no. It's going to be a daunting task for us. We've had our bye, we have a lot of Thursday-Saturday games.
“Our guys want to do it. I have confidence in them. But there's no question this will be a great challenge.”
The young players on this team have no idea. The guys who have been through Florida's annual back-ended schedule know exactly what lies ahead.
“The next 12 games are going to come pretty fast and they're going to go by pretty fast,” said forward Erik Murphy, Saturday's high scorer with 15 points. “We just have to stay focused, take care of our bodies, stay fresh.”
Saturday was a good day for the Gators if you pay attention to things like RPI and quality wins. Florida State's win at Duke, Tennessee and Arkansas both getting big non-conference wins, they all help.
But in the end, the Gators' fate will be decided by how they play.
“We're 15-4, that's a pretty good record,” Walker said. “It's only going to get tougher from here on out.”
That it will. Chris Harry of Gatorzone.com had a nice piece this week on how the people who rank college basketball fields and project the NCAA field are all over the place on these Gators.
Nobody is really sure how good this team is even if we have an idea of how good it can be.
Because it will all play out over the next six weeks.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
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