Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- As the normal Florida warm-up routine would have it, the Gators were out on the O’Connell Center floor last year being taken through their pre-game stretching routine. A pull here, bend there, the normal stuff.
That’s when center Patric Young looked up into the Rowdy Reptile student section, which was packed well before tip-off.
The Rowdies were all stretching, too.
“They make me laugh,” Young said.
Oh, and they make the Gators want to play well under the big white dome, as evidenced by the current 24-game home winning streak that is tied for the longest in school history and third-longest active streak in the nation.
So when seventh-ranked Florida (13-2, 2-0) takes on Georgia (8-6, 2-0) Tuesday night, it will be with a chance to set the all-time school mark for consecutive wins on the home court. And as if the incentive of beating a rival Southeastern Conference foe and defending the home turf isn't incentive enough, the game has been pegged as “Patric Young Beard Night,” with the first 1,000 students getting mock orange beards as a salute to one of the team’s most popular players and one of UF’s most decorated student-athletes.
[Note: Some of those beards showed up via Twitter (right) at various landmarks around campus]
Just picture the entire lower bowl of students, bearded. Actually, just think back to last Jan. 30 when 1,000 orange Mohawks were dished as a shout-out to Will Yeguete’s unique “do.”
And speaking of “do’s,” Young even had his touched up Monday, and beard groomed and tapered for the big night.
“I was going to trim mine, but it’s not to the level of Pat’s,” classmate Scottie Wilbekin said, stroking his beard and shaking his head when asked (jokingly) if he might consider dying his facial hair orange for the game to match the fans. “No way. Coach D would rip me in half.”
Billy Donovan’s focus, of course, is on the game. The Bulldogs have started the Southeastern Conference season with a pair of big victories, so the winner can get an early leg up on the other in the league race.
But Donovan also great appreciation for the enthusiasm the students show for his team.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “Anytime in college athletics when you have significant student involvement it changes the atmosphere.”
In last week’s defeat of South Carolina, a record student turnout of 4,182 flooded int to cheer on the Gators, part of a crowd of 12,147, the most ever to see a week night SEC game at the O’Dome against an opponent not named Kentucky. Four days earlier, UF drew 12,012 for a Saturday afternoon game against Richmond -- in the final days of the Christmas break -- for a game that was part of a three-game ticket package that included the Dec. 10 showdown with Kansas, witnessed by 12,423.
Clearly, UF fans like what they see from this team.
And, Donovan added, they probably like the players. After all, this UF squad is stacked with four seniors who have played in well over 100 games each -- including 12 NCAA Tournament games -- and the fans can identify with.
“Maybe a guy like [former Gator] Brad Beal comes in here and is a really good player, but he’s here for a year and maybe there’s not a real connection,” Donovan said. “But when you see a guy like Patric Young walking on campus for four years, I imagine he stands out pretty good. And Will and Casey [Prather] and Scottie, they’re personable guys who some kids probably see on campus and say, ‘Hey, I know that guy.’ And they’re all likable guys.”
Though “Beard Night” may be in honor of Young (right), the night is just as much for the students.
And they’ll enjoy it.
“I’m fired up for every home game, but it’s kind of cool when they’re doing something for you,” Young said. “I know ‘Mohawk Night’ was pretty tight. I hope ‘Beard Night’ will be just as successful.”
GATORS HOOP SCOOP
NO. 7 FLORIDA vs GEORGIA
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
Records: Florida 13-2 (2-0); Georgia 8-6 (2-0)
TV: ESPNU (w/Joe Davis and Dino Gaudio)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 85 / XM 85
Game notes: Florida notes; Georgia notes
History: Florida leads the all-time series against Georgia 108-99, including a 25-10 edge under Coach Billy Donovan and 14-3 record at home. UF swept the Bulldogs last season, winning by 33 at home to tip off the SEC slate, then two weeks later erased a 3-point halftime deficit at Athens for a 64-47 win behind a then-career high 17 points from Scottie Wilbekin.
Pre-game storylines: One of these two teams will lose for the first time in SEC play, while the other will advance to 3-0 and have a nice -- albeit early -- leg up in the conference race. ... Gators senior forward Casey Prather will miss his second straight game due to a bone bruise on his right knee. ... Florida has won 24 straight home games, which is tied for the school record set over the end of the 2005-06 and start of ’06-07 seasons. A win over the Bulldogs will break that mark.
The players: Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith was an animal in UF’s huge overtime win at Arkansas, scoring a career-high 22 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, the most in his short time at Florida since transferring from Virginia Tech (he once grabbed 16 in a game there). “Doe-Doe” became the first Gator in Donovan’s 18 seasons to have a 20-15 game on the road in SEC play. ... Michael Frazier was frustrated by his 2-for-7 shooting from 3-point range against South Carolina. He felt a lot better after ripping the Hogs for 4-for-7 out there, including a game-tying trey late. The sophomore guard is now hitting 48.1 percent from distance That leads the league. ... With Prather sidelined, sophomore DeVon Walker (3.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg) figures to start in a 3-guard alignment. Walker was ice cold in his start at Arkansas, going 0-for-4 from the field, all 3-point shots. But he played good defense (2 blocks, 2 steals), grabbed 6 rebounds and hit a pair of key free throws in the second half.
The opponent: Georgia’s pattern in Coach Mark Fox’s five seasons has been to get off to slow starts. The Bulldogs dropped four of their first five this season, then lost their last two games before entering SEC play, including an 18-point blowout at George Washington. But Georgia shocked then-No. 21 Missouri on Wednesday, ending the nation’s second-longest home win streak at 26 games, and rode the momentum of that big win to a home defeat of Alabama to claim an early share of the SEC lead at 2-0. ... The Bulldogs, statistically, are in he middle of the pack in rebounding, but the reality is they’re 8-0 when out-rebounding opponents and 0-6 when not. So guess where the key to this game lies? And if you watched the Gators get thrashed for 23 points off 20 offensive rebounds against the Razorbacks, this is a concern. ... Georgia is a backcourt-driven crew, with 6-5 Charles Mann (14.1 ppg, 2.9 apg) and 6-3 Kenny Gaines (12.2 ppg, 2.4) combining for 36.5 points -- more than half the team's points -- on 46.8-percent shooting in the Dawgs’ two SEC wins. Reserve forward Nemanja Djurisic (10.6 ppg) is hitting 51.4 percent from 3-point range. ... The Bulldogs rate at or near the bottom in assist and turnover statistics, so pressure defense can fluster them, but the Gators don’t want those guards getting free reign driving the lane and building confidence with shots around the rim.
* .750 - UF’s winning percentage in games decided by two points or less. The Gators are 3-1 in those circumstances (the lone loss the buzzer-beater at Connecticut) and 6-2 in games decided by single digits.
* 8 - Assists by freshman Kasey Hill the last three games.
* 10 - Turnovers by Hill the last three games.
* 66.8 - UF’s free-throw percentage for the season. The Gators have shot over 70 percent in five games (including two above 80 percent) and below 60 percent in five games. Weird.
* 70 - Years since the last time Florida and Georgia did not play home and home during a season. That was in 1944, when UF did not field a team due to World War II. The Gators and Bulldogs play only once this season due to the SEC expansion of last year that reset how the league scheduled its games once the conference slate went from 16 to 18 games.
Watch for it: Young, who did not start at Arkansas, playing with a lot of energy and feeding off the fuzzy, orange student body.