Gators focused on Georgia, not home streak
Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 13, 2014 at 10:39 p.m.
Florida has a chance to pick up a historic win tonight at the O'Connell Center against Georgia.
Who: Georgia Bulldogs (8-6, 2-0 SEC) at No. 7 Florida Gators (13-2, 2-0 SEC)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center
Radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
But to Florida coach Billy Donovan, history is just that.
Donovan showed little sentiment in Florida closing in on a school-record 25th straight home victory. If the favored Gators beat rival Georgia tonight, they will surpass the previous record of 24 wins from March 1, 2006 to Nov. 23, 2007.
“I never really looked at it that way in a streak,” Donovan said. “Every game is different and new. It's got its own unique set of challenges.”
That philosophy has passed down from Donovan to his players. For example, Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was unaware the last UF teams that won 24 straight at home — which featured future NBA All-Stars Al Horford and Joakim Noah — led the Gators to back-to-back national championships.
“It would be cool, but I didn't even know that we're close to that, and I don't think anybody else on the team is (aware of it),” Wilbekin said. “We're not really focused on that. We're focused on Georgia, that's our next game. And we're trying to take it one game at a time because you can lose any game in an SEC season. So we're just trying to focus on what we can control.”
Florida's last loss at home came to eventual national champion Kentucky (74-59) in the final game of the 2011-12 season. The Gators went 15-0 at home last season and have won their first nine home games this season. The streak has included wins over basketball blue-blood schools Kentucky and Kansas.
There have been some close calls, particularly this season. Florida needed an offensive rebound and free throw from Dorian Finney-Smith with 1.3 seconds remaining to beat rival Florida State 67-66. Ten days ago, Florida trailed Richmond by four points with under five minutes remaining before rallying for a 67-58 win.
Florida hosts a Georgia team that's already proven it isn't intimidated in hostile settings. The Bulldogs (8-6, 2-0 SEC) upset Missouri 70-64 in overtime last Wednesday, snapping Missouri's 26-game home win streak.
For the second straight game, Florida will be without leading scorer Casey Prather (17 ppg) who remains out with a bone bruise in his knee. That knocks UF's rotation down to just seven scholarship players and walk-on Jacob Kurtz.
“Our guys have an understanding that in this league if you don't play well or you have this mentality that you're at home, I think that's inevitably the wrong way to look at it,” Donovan said. “There's already been enough wins on the road. LSU, on the road, won. We went on the road and won. Georgia went on the road and won. Kentucky's been on the road and won. There have been teams that have won on the road already in this league.”
Florida has won seven straight overall and moved up three spots to No. 7 in this week's AP poll. Georgia is off to a surprise unbeaten league start despite losing sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the NBA draft. Caldwell-Pope, the SEC's player of the year last season, was picked eighth overall in the first round by the Detroit Pistons.
Donovan said he thinks Georgia coach Mark Fox has done a strong job utilizing his team's personnel to make up for Caldwell-Pope's departure. Georgia's sophomore starting backcourt (Charles Mann, 14.1 ppg and Kenny Gaines, 12.2 ppg) are both averaging double figures in scoring.
“There's more options this year for their team in terms of what they had last year,” Donovan said. “Mann and Gaines were not in a position to step up to that role that maybe Caldwell-Pope was in. Now those guys are a year older and stepping into a bigger role for themselves. They've performed very well.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 11.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 12.9 ppg, 3.7 apg
F Dorian Finney-Smith 6-8 So 10.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg
GEORGIA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Gaines 6-3 So. 12.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg
G Charles Mann 6-5 So. 14.1 ppg, 2.9 apg
F Brandon Morris 6-7 So. 9.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg
F Marcus Thornton 6-8 RJr. 6.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg
F Donte Williams 6-9 Sr. 6.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg
Notes: Florida has won 11 straight at home against Georgia. … The Gators are 25-10 against Georgia under Billy Donovan, including 14-3 at home. … The Gators are 10-7 in SEC road openers under Donovan and 10-2 in the last 12 SEC road openers. … Due to the new SEC unbalanced schedule, Florida and Georgia won't be playing twice in a season for the first time since 1943-44, when the Gators didn't field a team . … Florida sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith is coming off a 22-point, 15-rebound effort in UF's 84-82 overtime win at Arkansas. Finney-Smith is the first Gator player under Donovan to finish with 20 points or more and 15 rebounds or more in an SEC road game. … Florida is 6-2 this season in games decided by single digits and 3-1 in games decided by two points or less. … UF's assist-to-turnover ratio dropped to 12.5 to 12.2 after having 13 assists to 17 turnovers against Arkansas. The Gators have finished with a negative assist-to-turnover ratio in four of their last six games. … Florida is second in the SEC and 15th in the country in scoring defense, giving up 60.3 points per game… Georgia is 2-6 against Florida under current coach Mark Fox. … Georgia sophomore guard Charles Mann was named SEC player of the week and is averaging a league-best 20 ppg in conference play. Mann also averaged 6.5 assists and 3.5 assists win Georgia's wins over Missouri and Alabama.
Three things to watch
1. Defending the 3-point line
A glaring issue for the Gators early this season has been their inability to consistently defend the 3-point line. The Gators rank 12th in the SEC in 3-point percentage defense, giving up 35.1 percent from beyond the arc. Florida allowed Arkansas to shoot 41.7 percent from 3-point range in the Gators' 84-82 overtime win, and the Razorbacks missed several more wide-open looks. Georgia ranks ninth in the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage (33.1), but Bulldogs junior forward Nemanja Djurisic is capable of getting on a roll. The 6-foot-8 Djurisic went 4 of 5 from 3-point range in Georgia's 70-64 upset overtime win at Missouri last week.
2. Foul trouble
Florida has had three players with two first-half fouls in each of its first two league games. Against South Carolina, Michael Frazier, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather were on the bench with two fouls. Against Arkansas, Frazier, Yeguete and Patric Young had two fouls in the first half. The foul trouble, combined with UF's lack of depth, has forced Donovan to bring players back into the game with two fouls in the first half more often than ever before. To protect players with two fouls, Donovan has been forced to play more zone, which impacts UF's ability to defensive rebound and defend the 3-point line. “Some of that stuff can be corrected by us being in better defensive positioning,” Donovan said of UF's foul trouble. “I don't think that has anything to do with us being too aggressive. It has much more to do with us not being in the right spots.” Georgia is an aggressive team that's not afraid of taking the ball to the basket and drawing contact. Georgia went to the free-throw line 44 times, making 31 in its 66-58 win over Alabama.
3. Scottie on a roll
Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin has taken on a more assertive role offensively in SEC play. Wilbekin is averaging 17.5 ppg in two SEC games with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5 to 1, while maintaining his strong defense. Wilbekin said he's still not quite 100 percent after a sprained ankle he suffered against South Carolina, but close. Defensively, Wilbekin will get a tough assignment guarding physical, 6-foot-5 Georgia sophomore point guard Charles Mann. “We've got to make sure we build walls and make sure our help defense is where it needs to be so that we make it difficult for him to get his game off, which is trying to get down the lane and make plays for himself and his teammates,” Wilbekin said.