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Thursday November 7, 2013"We're All We Have" -- Undermanned Gators Ready to Tipoff Season

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Whatever the Florida basketball team will like come Southeastern Conference time in January, it very likely won’t resemble what the Gators roll out Friday afternoon for their 2013-14 season opener against North Florida.

Three UF players are suspended indefinitely for violating team rules, including senior point guard Scottie Wilbeken, who has been -- and it hasn’t really been close -- the team’s best player during preseason practices. In time, both forward Dorian Finney-Smith (transfer from Virginia Tech) and center Damontre Harris (transfer from South Carolina) could rejoin the team. Collectively, the three could make the Gators one of the deepest teams in the country.

But they’re not playing now.

Meanwhile, senior forward Will Yeguete continues his climb back from offseason knee surgery. Sophomore shooting guard Michael Frazier II is shaking off his bout with mononucleosis. Guard Eli Carter, the transfer from Rutgers, is going to try and play his back into game shape after struggling with his rehab from a season-ending broken leg.

If it’s sounds like a patch-work assignment for Coach Billy Donovan, it is. 

“I know it’s a coaching cliche, but we’re really dealing with this stuff a day at a time,” Donovan said. “You can sit there and project your team, but right now, here’s our team.”

It’s one that must replace 36.7 points that left with ’12-13 seniors Kenny Boynton Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy, plus another 9.1 that Wilbekin won’t be scoring. It’s also one that has struggled since the Gators convened for practice Oct. 11 to grasp defensive concepts that helped make last year’s squad one of the best in the nation on that end of the floor.

Case in point: Donovan and his staff were furious with the team’s defensive execution in practice Thursday -- “RUN IT AGAIN!” was the mantra for a good chunk of the afternoon -- and that was while Carter got treatment and freshman point guard Kasey Hill sat out with back spasms.

The games go on, however.

“We’re all we’ve got,” senior center Patric Young said. “We just line up with the guys we’re going to be playing with. Sometimes we struggle in practice, but we’re like, ‘Guys, this is what we have going into the game. We have to get it figured out.’ Coach expects the same thing.”

He’ll expect it for Game 1.

And he’ll expect it to get better from there.

No. 10 Florida vs North Florida 

When: Friday, 3 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
Records: N/A
TV: Sun Sports (with Larry Vettel and Mark Wise)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Bill Koss) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199
Game notes: Florida notes; North Florida notes


History: Florida has never lost a season opener under Coach Billy Donovan, a 17-game streak that dates to an 80-63 win over UCF on Nov. 22, 1996. The Gators are 3-0 all-time against the Ospreys. Those three wins have come an average of 43.3 points. The two teams last met in 2011 when Kenny Boynton scored 20 points and freshman Bradley Beal rang up his first career double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds).

Pre-game storyline: Donovan got a preview of his depleted roster in last Friday’s 110-88 defeat of Division II Florida Southern, a game he played just seven scholarship players, with significant minutes two walk-ons, F Jake Kurtz and G Billy Donovan (the coach’s son), as well as G Dillon Graham, who rarely played last season. With G Michael Frazier II expected back from his tussle with mononucleosis, he’ll assume some of those minutes. At the same time, guys that figure to be counted on for spot duty this season -- like sophomore swingman DeVon Walker, who will start at the off-guard spot today, and Kurtz -- should get some valuable court time and be allowed to play though mistakes.

Kasey in laneThe players: In the exhibition game, 6-9, 240-pound Patric Young gave the kind of end-to-end effort Donovan wants to see from his senior center nightly. Young wants to increase his junior-year numbers of 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. More consistent effort will do that. ... Assuming freshman PG Kasey Hill  is back is OK, the former McDonald’s All-American will try to build on the speed act he treated the O’Dome crowd to against FSC when he went for 17 points and often looked like lightening in transition. Hill, the self-proclaimed "pass-first point guard," not only can beat guys off the dribble, but he'll seek to get in the lane (like the pictured to the right) and either finish or dish to teammates. ... F Casey Prather stuffed the box score against FSC (23 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals) and appears far ahead of where he was even a year ago, especially with his confidence.

The opponent: North Florida returns just four players from a team that went 13-19 overall, including 8-10 in the Atlantic Sun Conference, but those four accounted for 48.1 percent of the team’s scoring last season. Travis Wallace is a 6-6, 230-pound senior forward who averaged 14.2 points on 57.7-percent shooting to go with 5.2 rebounds per game last season. The Osprey’s have never defeated a ranked opponent or a team from the SEC.

Key numbers:

3 - Consecutive Elite Eights the Gators have reached, albeit without finishing the job by punching a ticket to the Final Four.

22 - Consecutive wins in UF season openers, dating to a 70-61 loss to South Florida in Tampa on Nov. 24, 1990, a game that started the Coach Lon Kruger era.

43.3 - Percentage Florida Southern shot from 3-point range in the exhibition game, definitely a source of frustration for the UF coaches. They’ll be screaming for close-outs and better defensive rotations in this game, as the easiest way to make believe they can win is to let them bury 3-pointers.

Watch for it: Much has been made of the new points of emphasis being placed on various rules to help loosen up the game and promote more scoring. Officials will call tighter on hand checks (using two hands is an automatic foul) and contact away from the ball. They’ll also use a much stricter interpretation of the block-charge rule, with defenders in violation if they’re not set when the ball-handler “gathers themselves” -- translation: while still on the floor -- to attack the basket.



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