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Tuesday January 22, 2013Gators Open Two-Game Road Swing with Rematch vs. Georgia

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

ATHENS, Ga. -- The Florida basketball team appears to be in a very enviable spot.

The Gators, winners of six straight, are playing some of the most efficient -- if not dominate -- basketball in the country right now, having obliterated all four of their Southeastern Conference opponents by an average of 26.8 points per game and now head toward a trio of games against struggling league opponents: Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina, with the first two on the road.

These are prosperous times for the nation's eighth-ranked team and Coach Billy Donovan is anxious to see how his veteran group handles the next wave of challenges.

"It all comes down to our ability and our mentality to get better," Donovan said. "There's still areas we can improve and I think our guys have a maturity and understanding of the process that every day -- with the length and time of the season -- what is behind you is behind you, and what's in front of you is getting to [happen]."

In this particular case, as in Wednesday night, that's a roadie for the Gators (14-2, 4-0) against the Georgia Bulldogs (7-10, 1-3) at Stegeman Coliseum. It's a game that will mark UF's first SEC rematch of the young league season. Florida opened the conference schedule by crushing the Bulldogs by 33 just two weeks ago.

Such recent lopsidedness might lend itself to overconfidence. That's why the Gators need only look at recent history to remind them of the potential pitfall in taking anything for granted.

"It's a similar situation to last year," senior forward Erik Murphy said.

On Jan. 10, 2012, UF's home SEC opener was a 70-48 walking of the Dawgs.

Six weeks later, the Gators were 10-3 in league play when they went to Stegeman to face a Georgia squad that was 3-10 in the SEC. The Bulldogs jumped out early, led wire-to-wire and ran away with a 76-62 upset victory that sent UF on a three-game, regular season-ending tailspin.

Different team, different dynamics, different circumstances, yes, but this game represents an opportunity for growth; a chance to build on momentum while taking heed of what can happen without the right approach -- because it did happen for six players on this roster last year.

Use it.

"We look at ourselves as a target," senior guard Mike Rosario said. "That's one thing you want to continue to think."

A team that starts three seniors and two juniors should get on the plane with not only a clear understanding of that, but also a healthy fear for the potential trap that could await. And the fact the Gators were so impressive Saturday in beating then-No. 17 Missouri, a preseason SEC favorite, by 31 should make them even more aware.

"We've been [focused on the next game] this year and we've seen some pretty good results," Murphy said. "I think everybody's bought into that right now. It's something we've tried to focus on every single day, but I think everybody's mentality right now is really good."

"You always want to move on to what's next," added Rosario "We did a great job against Missouri, but that's in the past. We've got to come in and keep our focus level the way it has been, doing the little things and being on edge in the scouting report and doing our job, as coach would say. The whole team has been committed to that."

The Gators are saying all the right things and basically echoing the words they're hearing from the coaching staff.

Words vs. Action are two different things, though.

"For me it's just all about getting better," Donovan said. "Better than we were yesterday, better than we were the day before and constantly trying to improve. All the previous success or being 4-0 really has nothing to do with Wednesday's game. Zero to do with it. We just have to get better."

The stellar basketball Florida is playing on both ends of the floor, not to mention the one-sided scoreboards, has overshadowed some things the Gators would like to do better.

Like taking better care of the ball. The Gators had 16 turnovers against Missouri, including one stretch when they gave the ball away five straight possessions in the first half. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin is coming off a 10-assist performance, his second in five games, but Donovan would like to see his team in the 18-20 range on total assists. Even though UF is passing the ball the best it has the last few years, the Gators are averaging less than 15 assists per game and have hit their coach's mark of 18 only been four times this season.

And then there's the attention to detail on defense, something that is being emphasized in an altogether different way -- with different drills, different strategy, different metrics -- this season. As far as Donovan is concerned, that can always getter. Even when holding all four SEC opponents to 23 points or less by halftime.

It's all part of the big picture Donovan calls the "makeup" of his team.

He likes how everything is piecing together, but is also encouraged (if not excited) at the prospects how much better the panorama can be.

"The human nature in all of us is to want to relax. We don't want to be stressed or uncomfortable or put under duress. We want everything to be nice and easy," Donovan said. "My job as a coach is to try to take these guys out of their comfort zone physically and mentally to get them to strive and achieve the things that every college basketball player and team wants to achieve -- and that's the opportunity to compete for a championship."

Consider this week the next phase in that process.

No. 8 Florida at Georgia
Tip-off: Wednesday, 8 p.m. (Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.)
Records: Florida 14-2, 4-0 (SEC); Georgia 7-10, 1-3 (SEC)
TV: SEC Network (w/Dave Neal and Barry Booker) (affiliates)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199
Game notes: Florida notes; Georgia notes
Need to know: The Gators, off to their first 4-0 start in Southeastern Conference play since the 2006-07 national championship season, embark on a two-game league road swing with the Georgia game followed by a trip to Mississippi State on Saturday. ... UF has won six straight and is coming off an 83-52 defeat of Missouri. The Gators have won their four conference games by an average of 26.8 points, with no league opponent scoring more than 21 in the first half. ... The win over Missouri marked the 400th for Coach Billy Donovan since arriving at UF for the 1996-97 season. That's the third most in SEC history. ... Florida leads the all-time series against Georgia 107-97, including a 77-44 win two weeks ago at Gainesville. UF is 9-6 at Athens under Donovan, but the Bulldogs handed the Gators a 14-point loss at Stegeman last season that marked the worst loss of the season against a team other than eventual national champion Kentucky. ... UF ranks third in the nation in scoring defense (51.7 ppg) and leads the SEC in field-goal percentage defense (36.1). ... Offensively, the Gators top the conference in field goal percentage (49.1) and 3-pointers per game (8.1). ... Against Missouri, senior G Kenny Boynton (13.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg), the team's leading scorer, became the third player in UF history to eclipse 1,800 points for his career. ... Junior C Patric Young (11.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is making 61.5 percent of his shots, including 67 percent in SEC play. ... Senior G Mike Rosario is the team's scoring leader in conference play at 15.7 points per game on 51.5 shooting from floor and 50 percent (8-for-16) from the arc. ... UF will be without reserve F Casey Prather (6.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg) for the third straight game due to a left ankle sprain. ... Georgia is coming off its first SEC victory of the season, a 67-58 defeat of LSU. ... When on defense, the Gators will focus on Bulldogs 6-5 G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg), the SEC's fourth-leading scorer. That means PG Scottie Wilbekin again will be tasked with defending an opponent's best player. Caldwell-Pope went four of 10, 0-for-3 from distance and finished with just 11 points in the first meeting. ... 6-9 F Donte' Williams (6 ppg, 4.9 rpg), who missed the previous UF game due to a suspension, has been reinstated.


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