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Tuesday November 13, 2012Gators Bracing for Physical Wisconsin Squad at the O'Dome Wednesday Night (7 p.m., ESPN2)

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Maybe the best way to prepare for the Wisconsin Badgers would be just sprint-dribbling into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium against the grain of an exiting football crowd.

Get used to contact.

When the 10th-ranked Florida Gators (1-0) face the 22nd-ranked Badgers (1-0) Wednesday night at the O'Connell Center, they'll do so with a warning from Coach Billy Donovan and his staff.

Expect to be bumped, held, slapped, grabbed, pushed and generally beaten down within the letter of the basketball law.

Wisconsin, winner of at least 19 games in each of Coach Bo Ryan's 11 seasons (including 26 in 2011-12), just may be the most physical team in the Big Ten Conference. That makes the Badgers one of the most physical teams in the nation.

"It's going to be like hand-to-hand combat," Donovan said.

That should make for quite a contrast in styles for the O'Dome crowd and ESPN2 audience.

On one side, the Badgers, several of whom will resemble giant lumberjacks. They are a tough, hard-nosed bunch that would be delighted to play a game with the score in the 50s, doing their best to milk the shot clock to 34.5 seconds if it means getting the shot they want. Defensively, they'll test UF's collective patience with body-on-body banging.

"Coach has challenged us to match their physicality," junior forward Will Yeguete said. "I can't wait to see how we respond."

The Gators, meanwhile, want to dictate an up-tempo, chaotic pace that allows them to score in transition and space the floor in the halfcourt for dribble-penetration and open 3-point shots.

Call it a test of wills, if you will.

Florida faced and talked about a very similar matchup last March when the Gators took on Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The result was a breezy 71-45 defeat of the Cavaliers, who got caught up early playing UF's game.

Wisconsin, which returns two starters from their Sweet 16 squad of a season ago, won't be so easily swayed. The Badgers are too well coached, therefore too disciplined to get drawn from what they do best.

Since Ryan came to Madison, Wis., in 2002, the Badgers have won at least 20 games in nine of his 11 seasons. Context: In the previous 103 years of basketball at UW, there had been just four 20-win seasons.

The Badgers also are the best road team in the Big Ten since Ryan showed up, with .508 winning percentage away from home. That's better than Ohio State (.491), Illinois (.481) and Michigan State (.477).

The hallmark of all those teams has been the aforementioned physicality that is so consistent, so constant that officials just can't call all the fouls.

"You can't expect the whistle to be blown and you can't be the one who -- metaphorically speaking -- throws the first punch," UF center Patric Young said.

Senior guard Mike Rosario equated it to facing some of the beasts of the Big East Conference, which he played in for two seasons at Rutgers before transferring to UF.

The Gators got something of a preview of the Badgers style last Friday night in their half against Georgetown. The Hoyas, also out of the Big East, play similarly in the halfcourt, but they're longer and more athletic.

The Badgers are bigger and bang more.

Much, much more.

"You have to expect the bumps and the slaps," Rosario said. "With us being a penetrating offensive team, we're going to look for drives and kick-outs. When we do that, we have to make sure we protect the ball and not turn it over because those guys are so quick and big with their hands."

Donovan said he had an ideal vision for the game.

"Balls and bodies flying over the place," he said.

Against these guys, anything but stagnancy.

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GATORS GAMEBOX
No. 10 Florida vs. No. 22 Wisconsin
Tip-off: Wednesday, 7 p.m. (O'Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.)

Tickets: Available

Records: Florida 1-0; Wisconsin 1-0
TV: ESPN2 (w/Mark Jones and Jimmy Dykes)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) / Sirius 134/XM 199
Game notes: Florida notes; Wisconsin notes
Need to know: UF faces Wisconsin for only the third time in school history and the first time since Neal Walk scored 24 points to leads the Gators past the Badgers 71-66 at Alligator Alley on Dec. 21, 1968. Florida lost at Wisconsin 86-81 in 1967. ... Both teams are coming off lopsided season-opening victories, with Florida bombing Alabama State 84-35 Sunday, while Wisconsin waxed Southeastern Louisiana 87-47. ... In UF's win, the Gators surrendered just nine points in the first half, the fewest since the NCAA introduced a shot clock for the 1985-86 season. ... Florida is 7-8 vs. the Big Ten under Coach Billy Donovan with 10 of those 15 games coming against either Ohio State and Michigan State, and five in the NCAA Tournament. ... The Gators again will be without two key players: starting PG Scottie Wilbekin (suspended indefinitely) and backup F Casey Prather (concussion). ... UF is led by senior G Kenny Boynton, who in his full-game debut as point guard led all scorers with 22 points on 8-for-10 shooting, including 4-for-4 from the arc. Senior F Erik Murphy (15 points, 3 rebounds vs. Alabama State), junior C Patric Young (11 points, 12 rebounds), senior F Mike Rosario (14 points) and junior F Will Yeguete (7 rebounds) round out the probable starting five. ... The Gators hope to get better shooting production from a four-man freshman class that went 6-for-20 in its debut, with Mike Frazier going 0-6 from distance. ... Wisconsin, under Coach Bo Ryan, returns two starters from a squad that went 26-10 last season and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament before falling to No. 1 seed Syracuse. ... The Badgers lost starting PG Josh Gasser for the season to a knee injury in October, but they're big and physical. Gasser's replacement, 6-1 G Ben Brust, had 14 points and 11 rebounds in Sunday's opener, while 6-10, 235-pound C Jared Berggren scored 19 points. ... Keep an eye on 6-6 freshman F Sam Dekker (8 points, 2-3 from arc), who played for Donovan for the Team USA squad that competed in the FIBA Americas U18 championships last June in Brazil.

 

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