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Sunday January 5, 2014Basket Blog: Close games, 50-year-old fires, Rosario, rebounds, etc.

Billy D in huddle GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- At one point during Friday’s practice, Billy Donovan stopped play and lit into his players. He did not like their movement. He did not like their defense. He did not like their disposition. Or as he put it (quite loudly) ...

“I DON’T LIKE ANYTHING, RIGHT NOW!” he added.

The Gators responded and were more in tune when they came back for a meeting a walk-through that night. The Saturday morning shoot-around five hours before taking on Richmond was OK, not great.

Sort of like the game. 

“He told us in practice that he wasn’t happy with our level of focus and it really carried over,” sophomore guard Michael Frazier said after UF grinded to a 67-58 win over the Spiders at the O’Connell Center. “We didn’t have great focus in the first half. We weren’t locked in.”

That’s one of Donovan’s go-to phrases: “locked in.” There’s also “level of awareness” and “being connected” and “embracing the struggle” and a bunch others.

The Richmond game touched on a handful of them. It also provided the UF with yet another tough, anybody’s-game situation the likes of which were few last season.

“When he yelled at us at practice, we picked it up,” sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. “We did it again here" vs. Richmond].

UF’s late-game collapses in 2012-13 (at Arizona, at Missouri, at Kentucky and against Ole Miss in the Southeastern Conference Tournament title game) were topical subjects last season. The fact Florida went 0-6 in games decided by single-digits got far more mention than going 29-2 in games decided by double-digits, a pretty impressive statistic.

But after Saturday, which ended UF’s non-league schedule, the Gators have now played seven games decided by single-digits and are 5-2 in those situations. The lone losses came at unbeaten Wisconsin (with Scottie Wilbekin and Finney-Smith suspended) and at Connecticut (at the buzzer without Kasey Hill and after Wilbekin left the game with a sprained ankle).

A bunch of Florida fans, no doubt, left the O’Dome grumbling about the ugliness of the game and another poor performance by the Gators at the free-throw line (10 of 19, including just 2-for-8 in the final 57 seconds). Fair points. After the game, Donovan said there are two things he’d like to see his players do better: convert more shot opportunities around the basket (i.e. layups, follows, tips, etc.) and make a higher percentage of free throws.

Had those two things happened with any consistency this season, the Gators likely would not have been in so many single-digit games. But as long as there are flaws in those areas, it’s good that they're figuring out other ways to close out games.

After wrapping the pre-SEC slate, the Gators are 15th in RPI and have played the 40th-toughest schedule in the country.

Florida (11-2) opens league play Wednesday night at home against South Carolina (7-6). The Gators, Donovan believes, are more than prepared.

“I just don’t think we’re going to see anything in our league we haven’t already seen at this point,” said Donovan, whose team beat a big and long team in Florida State, a deep and athletic powerhouse in Kansas, and won on a neutral court against a very dangerous Memphis team (not to mention those trips to two tough venues in Wisconsin and UConn). “There’s nothing that’s going to take us by surprise where our team says, ‘Wow! We haven’t seen that before.’ I’m talking about talent, environment, that type of stuff. I think we can build off that.”


Roosevelt fire HISTORY LESSON

Kudos to Florida Times-Union reporter Matt Soergel for his historical look back at the morning of Dec. 29, 1963, when a fire ravaged the glitzy Roosevelt Hotel in downtown Jacksonville. The blaze never reached above the second floor of the 13-story high rise, yet 20 people died, mostly from the toxic fumes that climbed the building through air shafts.

Among the more than 450 rescued were the reigning 1963 Miss America and the entire Florida basketball team, then coached by Norm Sloan. The Gators were in town that week for the Gator Bowl Tournament, part of the festivities married to the football game that matched North Carolina and Air Force that year.

Soergel’s project relived the terrifying hours and heroic rescues -- City of Jacksonville assistant fire chief James R. Romedy died -- and included a first-person account by Michael Sloan, 10 years old at the time and the son of the former UF coach.


TRIVIA QUESTION

A week ago, senior center Patric Young became the 50th UF player to reach 1,000 points for his career. What active Gator ranks second in career points? Answer below in "Free Throws" category.


EX-GATOR UPDATE

He finished as UF’s leading scorer last season, yet Mike Rosario has been around the program enough of late it’s almost like he never left.

“It’s my second home,” he said Friday.

RosieRosario, the 6-foot-3 guard and hero of the 2013 NCAA Tournament after his 25-point eruption in third-round play against Minnesota, turned down offers to play professionally in Europe and opted instead to play in his native Puerto Rico. During the summer league, Rosario averaged 14 points a game, but wants to improve on those numbers in the upcoming season. He’s been shooting at the practice facility and training with UF strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene to get ready.

On Saturday, the JumboTrons at the O’Dome beamed Rosario’s smiling face from his seat in the bleachers behind the Florida bench.

“The Puerto Rican League is a special league,” said Rosario, adding that they love their basketball down there. “Some fans they really get [ticked] off and throw water on the court. For the game to start back up, it takes literally like 30 minutes. In some parts of the island, it’s like that. Some people are really aggressive because they really love basketball there. That’s the beauty of it. Playing over there, everyone loves the sport.”


TWITTER PATTER (random samplings from my feed)

 


CHARTING THE GATORS

Florida smashed Richmond in the rebounding department Saturday, doubling up the Spiders by a dominant 44-22 on the glass, including a 15-3 edge on the offensive end. Finney-Smith grabbed 13, the most by a UF player this season. The Gators, who started slowly on the boards this season (especially with Finney-Smith sidelined the first two games) have now out-rebounded their last four opponents by double-digits. That’s the first time that’s happened since 2004-05 when senior David Lee and freshman Al Horford were roaming the paint.

Opponent                  Margin        Edge
Memphis                     37-26          +11
Fresno State               47-24          +13
Savannah State          42-30          +12
Richmond                   44-22          +22
Totals                       170-102         +14.5 (avg.)


IRRELEVANT GATOR PHOTO OF THE WEEK

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Bud Walton FREE THROWS

These numbers will change drastically over the course of the next nine weeks, but the Gators will start SEC play leading the league in three categories: scoring defense (58.8), opponent rebounds (30.5) and fouls (15.5). The first number is particularly encouraging, given Donovan's concerns with his defense early in the season. ... UF's win over Richmond marked the 23rd straight home victory and means the Gators can tie the school record for consecutive home wins Wednesday against Georgia. Right now, UF owns the nation's fifth-longest home winning streak behind Missouri and Stephen F. Austin (26), Arkansas (25) and Duke (24). If the Gators can defeat the Gamecocks, they'll have a chance to climb the active list by halting the Arkansas streak Saturday, as their first SEC road come will come against the Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena (right). Part of that 25-game streak, of course, is an 80-69 pummeling UF took last season -- its lone double-digit SEC loss. That game, by the way, wasn't nearly as close as the 11-point score suggests.  ... Trivia answer: Wilbekin, the senior point guard, ranks second on the team with 600 career points through Saturday. Next is Casey Prather with 501, followed by Will Yeguete’s 386 and Frazier’s 357. Of this group, Frazier looms as the most likely to be Florida’s 51st player to hit the 1,000-point milestone. ... Note: If you have any info, want to suggest trivia/fun stuff and maybe have a crazy photo of a Gator for Basket Blog consideration, email me at chrish@gators.ufl.edu or tweet at me @GatorZoneChris.

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