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Friday January 10, 2014Hardly Hog Heaven: Donovan, Gators Come to Arkansas With Lineup In Flux

Gainesville, Fla.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Billy Donovan put his team through a hard practice Friday, one made harder by a lack of bodies.

Figures, right?

Barely two weeks after grinning ear to ear at the sight of a full and healthy squad -- thanks to the additions of a couple midseason newcomers -- there was Donovan calling for 4-on-4 drills while players sat on the sidelines or got treatment in the training room.

Casey Prather was out with a bone bruise to his knee. Scottie Wilbekin, who sprained an ankle late in Wednesday’s home win over South Carolina, was limited to shooting on the women’s court. Patric Young’s tendinitis flared up in both knees. Michael Frazier’s calves were aching. That’s four of five starters dealing with pain and mostly watching.

And one coach looking to make due.

“Guess what?” Donovan asked. “The train moves on.”

Does it ever. The next stop for the 10th-ranked Gators (12-2, 1-0), winners of five straight, is Saturday afternoon at Arkansas (11-3, 0-1), where they Razorbacks have won 25 straight, including a wire-to-wire blowout of UF at Bud Walton Arena barely 11 months ago.

Prather, who leads the team in scoring (17 points per game) and the Southeastern Conference in shooting percentage (62.4), will not play. Wilbekin, UF’s second-leading scorer, will be a game-time decision. And Young and Frazier’s time away from the practice court had Donovan leaning toward holding both out of the starting lineup.

That’s why, Donovan hinted that Friday night’s shoot-around at Bud Walton likely would  feature a blue team (or first unit) of Dorian Finney-Smith at center, Will Yeguete at power forward, walk-on Jake Kurtz at small forward, DeVon Walker at shooting guard and freshman Kasey Hill running the point. That would be UF’s sixth different starting lineup this season. Some other combinations, including one or more of starters, certainly are possible.

Just who the UF coach throws out there at high noon (local time) Saturday remains to be seen.

“Certainly, Prather has a legitimate injury and we’re thankful it’s not worse,” Donovan said. “But we’ve got Scottie out, too. Patric has sore knees, Frazier’s calves are bothering him. Before you know it, it becomes a disease inside the team. We’ve got to keep getting better and improving, and the way you do that is a balance between getting them refreshed and revived from game to game, but you also have to work to get better.”

Young has a history of dealing with achy knees.

“A lot of big guys get tendinitis and it’s just something I’ll have to deal with the rest of my career,” he said. “I expect to be full go when the buzzer sounds.”

That doesn’t mean he’ll be full go with the coach.

Young sat out a practice the night before Florida played Fresno State last month. He didn’t start the game, snapping a team-high streak of 41 straight starts. Young, though, was on the floor barely three minutes in and played 27 minutes, one more than his average. 

That might be the plan again for Arkansas; not only for Young, but Wilbekin (assuming he’s cleared to play) and Frazier.

“To me, this is great,” Donovan said. “Of course, I wish everybody was healthy and we had a full roster, but there’s has to be mentality in our team where, you know, games are coming. If you can’t practice, it impacts who plays.”

If the message has to come comes at Bud Walton, where the Gators came in last season having won 10 in a row, unbeaten in seven SEC games and ranked second -- and promptly watched the Razorbacks hit 14 of their first 18 field-goal attempts and race to a 23-point first-half lead -- then so be it.

“We were the No. 2 team in the country, so we [acted like we] could relax and have this entitlement to ourselves,” Young said. “Going into [this] game, after losing like we did last year, we know we can do that at all. We have to come out ready to play.”

That's exactly the mentality Donovan wants for games. Practices, too.  


GATORS HOOP SCOOP
No. 10 Florida at Arkansas  

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, Ark.
Records: Florida (12-2, 1-0); Arkansas (11-3, 0-1)
TV: ESPN2 (w/Mark Jones and Jimmy Dykes)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise)
Game notes: Florida notes; Arkansas notes

THE TIP-OFF

History: UF leads the all-time series 16-11, with a 16-6 advantage under Coach Billy Donovan. The Gators are 4-8 all-time when playing the Razorbacks on the road. .... Florida and Arkansas played on each other’s home floor every other year from 1992-2010, but this will mark the third straight year the Gators have gone to Fayetteville due to a quirk in the SEC’s expansion from 12 to 14 teams for 2012-13 ... The Gators and Hogs split two games last season. The first was a dominant 80-69 home win for Arkansas last Feb. 2 when the Hogs made seven 3-point shots in the first half to open a 17-point lead at the break and went on to win 80-69. Florida prevailed three weeks later 71-54 at Gainesville behind 15 points from Mike Rosario and a defense that held the Hogs to just 6-for-27 from the arc.

Pre-game storyline: The Gators will go into one of the SEC’s toughest venues minus senior forward Casey Prather (17 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 62.4 percent from floor), who is out with a bruised bone in his right knee. The status of senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who left Wednesday’s win over South Carolina with a sprained ankle, figures to be determined at game time.

The players: In his first SEC road game, sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith (9.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg), the transfer from Virginia Tech, needs to play a more efficient and consistent game than he did in 24 minutes against South Carolina when he had the same number of turnovers as rebounds (4). He did have a season-high 5 assists, though. ... Sophomore guard DeVon Walker (3.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg) usually goes into games never quite sure how much he’ll play: 2 minutes vs. Memphis; 23 vs. Savannah State; 9 vs. Richmond; 19 vs South Carolina). But because of the work he puts in during practice, Walker is becoming a more confident and reliable player. ... Freshman point guard Kasey Hill (7.3 ppg, 3.2 apg) may get his first road start since Nov. 12 at Wisconsin, where he scored 4 points on just 2-for-11 shooting to go with 4 assists and 2 turnovers before fouling out in one of UF’s two defeats.

The opponent: The Razorbacks are a below-average team away from Bud Walton, but absolute world-beaters at home, evidenced by that 25-game home victory streak. Only Stephen F. Austin has a longer one. ... Arkansas opened SEC play by getting drummed 69-53 at Texas A&M (which lost a week earlier at home to North Texas), but will be sky-high -- along with the home crowd -- for a second visit from a top-10 Florida team in the last 12 months. ... The Hogs’ best win probably was Minnesota in the Maui Invitational, where they also lost to Cal and Gonzaga. Arkansas defeated Clemson at home and only played its first “true” road game in the loss at A&M Wednesday. ... 6-10 forward Bobby Portis leads the Hogs’ starters in both scoring (12.4) and rebounding (6.3), but reserve swingman Michael Qualls tosses in 12.9 points off the bench. Rashad Madden (10.3 ppg, 50 percent from 3-point) heads a 3-guard lineup that tops the SEC in turnovers forced (18.5) and assist-to-turnover margin (plus-6.4).

Key numbers:

* 1 - UF’s rank among SEC teams in scoring defense (58.7 ppg), which rates 9th nationally.

* 6 - Field-goal attempts by senior forward Will Yeguete over the last three games.

* 7 - Rebounds needed by Florida senior center Patric Young to reach 700 for his career.

* 16 - Players in UF history with at least 700 rebounds, with the most recent being Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons.

* 400 - Wins by the Gators since the 1998-99, Donovan’s third at UF and the first of his 13 NCAA-bound squads. Only two other programs in the nation have hit the 400-win mark in those 15 years under the same coach: Duke and Syracuse. 

Watch for it: Most road games are about weathering runs by the home team and the Razorbacks again will try to charge from the gate and smack Florida like they did last season in hitting 78 percent of their first 18 shots. The Gators will need to be composed, but more importantly they’ll need to take care of the ball and -- when careless with it -- be ready to transition on defense.

 

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