Friday January 25, 2013If Gators Need a Theme Song, 'On the Road Again' Should Work -- at Mississippi State Next
The Gators hit the road again for Saturday's game at Mississippi State.
The Gators hit the road again for Saturday's game at Mississippi State.
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Here they go again.
On the bus, on the plane, on the road.
All aboard, Gators.
When eighth-ranked Florida (15-2, 5-0) faces Southeastern Conference foe Mississippi State (7-10, 2-3) Saturday night at Humphrey Coliseum, it’ll mark the 11th time UF has traveled to play a single game this season. That number, which is four more than any other SEC team, includes the game against Georgetown on the USS Bataan at Naval Station Mayport.
The game may have been canceled at halftime. The travel wasn’t.
The Gators have played games in three time zones, crossed the Mississippi River three times and flown to Connecticut. All told, they’ve jetted the equivalent of a flight to Moscow and bused the equivalent of a roadie to Montreal.
Total miles: more than 14,000.
“It takes a toll on you, definitely,” freshman guard Michael Frazier said. “You just have to fight through it.”
And now comes the second of back-to-back SEC road games; the third of four, actually. The Gators are the only conference team to play four of its first six league games on the road, with things set to even out after this trip to Magnolia State. Four of UF’s next five games -- including dates against red-hot Ole Miss and Kentucky -- are scheduled for the O’Connell Center over the next couple weeks.
“I kind of like the fact we’re getting so many of our road games out of the way like this,” junior forward Will Yeguete said.
Yeguete hails from the Ivory Coast, so his take on jet lag is different than, say, Scottie Wilbekin.
“I hate flying,” Wilbekin said. “I’m OK once we get where we’re going, the hotel and all that, but I don’t like it when things get bumpy.”
Once the Gators are on the ground, there has been very little turbulence when it comes to basketball. Yes, there was the late-game collapse at Arizona (a 65-64 loss) and a listless showing against Kansas State (a 67-61 defeat) in Kansas City three days before Christmas.
But even with those two games -- both winnable, by the way -- UF has been stellar away from home, with a 7-2 mark that includes three SEC victories by a combined 60 points.
“It’s hard to win on the road, and when you can win on the road in your conference it’s a big deal,” said UF coach Billy Donovan, whose team is tied with Ole Miss for first place in the SEC. “Look at most teams’ road record inside their league. A lot of teams are going to have sub-500 records. If you can play over .500 basketball on the road, you really have done a pretty good job.”
Doing so means fighting the mundane packing, boarding and jamming long legs into seats made for normal-sized people.
Note: 6-foot-10 Erik Murphy and 6-9, 260-pound Patric Young get their own row.
“Some guys don’t like flying,” Murphy said. “I don’t mind it.”
Road routines are pretty standard. The Gators almost always bus to the airport after a late-afternoon practice and fly a chartered flight from Gainesville to their destination. Once there, sometimes they’ll go directly to the gym and walk-through some things and take some shots. If not, it’s straight to the hotel for a meal, meetings and bed.
“I think we all like being at the hotel, hanging out, thinking about basketball,” Yeguete said. “That part of it is fun.”
After breakfast on game day, the team buses to the gym for a shoot-around and hour-long practice, followed by a light lunch, a few hours of rest, pre-game meal, then back on the bus for the game.
Two hours after the game, the Gators are usually on the plane and headed home, arriving in Gainesville at all hours, depending on the venue. For Arizona, it was 7 the next morning. For Georgia on Wednesday, it was a far more manageable 12:20 a.m.
Yes, it can be draining, but these guys are young.
Plus, it could be worse.
“When I played, we went commercial everywhere,” Donovan said.
Counting the SEC Tournament in Nashville, the Gators still have five road trips and more than 3,200 air miles left on their schedule.
Then comes the NCAA Tournament.
In the perfect Florida world, there will be lots of travel in March. Preferably a short one to Atlanta in April.
“To get where we want to go, you have to deal with this stuff,” Frazier said. “Might as well get used to it now.”
No. 8 Florida at Mississippi State
Tip-off: Saturday, 8 p.m. (Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss.)
Records: Florida 15-2, 5-0 (SEC); Mississippi State 7-10, 2-3 (SEC)
TV: ESPN (w/Dave Lamont and Kara Lawson)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199
Need to know: The Gators, who have won seven straight, are off to their first 5-0 start in Southeastern Conference play since the 2006-07 national championship season and for just the fourth time in the history of the program (2002-03 and 1960-61) ... UF leads the all-time series against Mississippi State 58-49, with an 11-8 record under Coach Billy Donovan and 4-4 record at Starkville that includes two straight losses ... UF will look to maintain the torrid defensive pace that has kept nine opponents from scoring 50 points this season ... Florida leads the SEC (and ranks third nationally) in scoring defense (51.4 ppg) and field-goal defense (36.3 percent). Those numbers could be a problem for the Bulldogs, who don’t score (62.1 ppg) or shoot the ball (40.8 percent) particularly well and rate at the bottom of the league in assist-to-turnover ratio after committing a season-worst 29 giveaways in Wednesday’s 96-70 loss at Arkansas ... MSU also has depth problems, dressing out only seven scholarship players due to injuries/issues ... The Gators are coming off a 64-47 win at Georgia. That 17-point margin represented their smallest in SEC play this season. UF’s average margin of victory in conference is 24.8 points ... Against Georgia, junior PG Scottie Wilbekin (8.9 ppg, 4.8 apg) led the Gators with a career high-tying 17 points, making him the sixth different player on the UF roster to take scoring honors in a game ... Senior G Kenny Boynton (13.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg) tops four UF players averaging in double figures, with senior F Erik Murphy (12.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg), junior C Patric Young (11.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and senior G Mike Rosario (12.2 ppg) all within just two points of Boynton’s average ... Boynton hit his 300th career 3-point basket Wednesday. He is one of only six active NCAA players with at least 300 and just the seventh player in SEC history to hit that milestone ... Reserve F Casey Prather will miss his fourth straight game due to an ankle injury suffered Jan. 12 at LSU ... The Bulldogs are in their first year under Coach Rick Ray, who came to Starkville after two seasons as an assistant at Clemson ... Mississippi State goes as junior G Jalen Steele (10.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg) goes, but the Bulldogs’ two leading scorers, F Roquez Johnson (10.7 ppg) and G Fred Thomas (10.6 ppg), come off the bench ... MSU’s two conference wins were against South Carolina and Georgia, but the Bulldogs have dropped three straight in league play (Alabama, at Tennessee, at Arkansas) by a combined 73 points ... Three of MSU’s losses came against North Carolina, Marquette, Texas and Providence, but the Bulldogs also lost at Troy, at Loyola-Illinois and home against Alabama A&M.