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Friday January 24, 2014Two-Day Turnarounds Have Been Good to Gators

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In the grand scheme of things, it qualified as a minor inconvenience.


After slugging and slogging their way Thursday night to a tough road win at Alabama, the Florida Gators got stuck in Tuscaloosa when their chartered aircraft had mechanical issues. After a 30-minute wait at the airport, the team bused to the hotel where it stayed Wednesday night and hung out in the lobby for about an hour while the staff rallied for the unexpected mass check-in (or recheck-in).

UF assistant coach Matt McCall laughed when asked where this episode ranked on the adversity meter.

Before coming to Florida in 2011, McCall spent three seasons as an assistant at Florida Atlantic in the Sun Belt, which played a regular Thursday-Saturday schedule. He recalled a road trip to North Texas, where the team won and got snowed in the next morning. They got home late Friday night and played an overtime game Saturday.

No big deal.

“That’s ‘The Belt,’ for you,” he said.

Second-year UF assistant Rashon Burno also scoffed. He came to the Gators by way of Manhattan and the Metro Atlantic Conference. Try busing to Sienna, Canisius or Niagara ... in a blizzard.

“This is nothing,” Burno said.

In fact, UF trainer David “Duke” Werner went one better. The players got an extra meal in them before bed (courtesy of 13 pizzas delivered to the hotel) got a good night’s sleep, woke up for 8:15 breakfast and made it home before noon.

“They ate, got their rest and got home at a reasonable time,” Werner said. “I think it worked out great.”

How great remains to be seen. Since the Southeastern Conference partnered with ESPN for the 2009-10 season, teams have been placed in the whirlwind Thursday-Saturday vortex. Donovan and his staff - and that includes the training and conditioning teams -- have been spectacularly organized and efficient in the SEC turnaround scenarios, going 16-1 in those instances. They’d love to go 17-1.

For that to happen, though, the sixth-ranked Gators (16-2, 5-0) need to hold serve at home against nemesis Tennessee (12-6, 3-2) Saturday at the O’Connell Center.

The Volunteers not only are serious contenders in the SEC race, they’ve also been a serious pain in Donovan’s back side of late. UT has won three straight in the series and is 13 of 19 since 2004.

With only a limited amont of time to prepare for the Vols, Donovan used Friday afternoon to introduce UT tape and went over some offensive and defensive basics during a light, non-contact practice, with more review scheduled for the team meeting after dinner Friday night.

The Gators will have a one-hour shoot-around Saturday at 11 a.m., then be on the court for their second game against another physical foe in 45 hours.

“It’s quick -- and it can be challenging,” Donovan said. “The biggest thing you try to do is get into the meat and potatoes [of the opponent], talk about concepts and get them focused on the things they have to do to be productive in the game. ... It’s much more of a mental day, of just trying to be efficient, really organized and getting them to understand what we’re trying to do schematic-wise.”

Against the likes of UT beefy front court of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, plus explosive guard Jordan McRae, that may not sound like enough.

But it’s all the Gators had time for.

“We have to be mentally ready,” senior forward Casey Prather said. “We don’t have a lot of time, so we need to take advantage of the time we have.”

No. 6 Florida vs Tennessee  

When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
Records: Florida 16-2 (5-0); Tennessee 12-6 (3-2) 
TV: ESPN (w/Mark Jones and Jimmy Dykes) 
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Bill Koss) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 191 / XM 91
Game notes: Florida notes; Tennessee notes


History: Tennessee leads the all-time series 72-52. Once upon a time in the 1990s, the Gators enjoyed a run of 14 straight victories from 1991-98, but the Volunteers have retaken their edge. UF is 6-13 in the series since 2004, including three straight losses (two in 2012, one in ’13). The lone meeting of last season was in Knoxville, where the Vols seized on the Gators’ depleted roster -- no Will Yeguete (knee), no Mike Frazier (concussion) and Casey Prather left the game late with a facial laceration -- for a 64-58 win behind 27 points from guard Jordan McRae.

Pre-game storyline: Florida, the lone unbeaten team in the Southeastern Conference, wants to continue to put distance between itself and the league’s next-tier contenders. A win would give UF a three-game edge on UT, while a Vols victory on the road would be a huge boost to their resume and tighten things up considerably across the conference standings.

The players: Senior center Patric Young (10.6 ppg, 6.2 ppg) had his least-productive game of the SEC season at Alabama, finishing with just five points and six rebounds. Young really needs to be active and and aggressive against Tennessee’s uber-physical front court. ... Scottie Wilbekin (12.5 ppg, 3.5 apg) will have his hands full on both ends of the floor. Aside from running the UF offense, Wilbekin will get the assignment of guarding McRae, who has 4 inches on him and can run and jump all day. ... Since grabbing no rebounds in 19 minutes in the SEC opener against South Carolina, Yeguete has averaged 7.0 boards the last five games, including 11 at Bama. The Gators could use that (and more, actually) Saturday.  

The opponent: The Vols have played a decent schedule, with losses to Xavier, Wichita State and North Carolina. Their worst defeats came against UTEP at a neutral site and Texas A&M in the home SEC opener. Best wins? Tennessee obliterated Virginia at home by 35 and stomped LSU on the road in the league opener. ... McRae ranks third in the SEC in scoring at 19.2 points per game after hanging 34 on Arkansas this week. He uses his length to drive and can pull up from long range (35.3 percent). ... Forward Jarnell Stokes (13.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg) goes 6-8, 260 and ranks second in the SEC in rebounding. He has great hands and basically gets where he wants to on the block. ... Forward Jeronne Maymon (11.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg) goes 6-8, 260 and ranks fourth in the SEC in rebounding. He has great hands and basically gets where he wants to on the block. ... Get the idea about those last two guys? Stokes and Maymon account for nearly half (45.5 percent) of Tennessee’s 39.5 rebounds per game, second in the league. ... Tennessee is one of the few teams that can match Florida in terms of experience. The Vols start three seniors and two juniors, most of whom were around for those recent wins over the Gators.

Key numbers:

* 1.000 - Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin’s winning percentage against Donovan, thanks to victories in all three meetings. Martin’s winning percentage vs. the rest of the league is .580, thanks to a 21-15 conference mark.

* 1 - Statistical categories UF tops in the SEC. The Gators lead the league in scoring defense (59.8 ppg).  

* 20.0 - Freshman point guard Kasey Hill’s shooting percentage from the 3-point line (5-for-25). He was one of his last 14 before hitting the only trey he attempted in the win at Alabama.

* 42.1 - Percentage of offensive rebounds the Volunteers grab, meaning close to half their missed shots are gathered for another possession. That poses a problem. The Gators need to be on their box-out game.

* 599 - Games Donovan has been the head coach at Florida. This one will make 600.

Watch for it: Because of UT’s size and physicality in the front court, it would behoove the Gators to get the game’s pace to their liking -- as in chaotic -- so don’t be surprised if Donovan sends waves of defenders at point guard Antonio Barton (8.3 ppg, 2.3 apg), the transfer from Memphis, to see how well he can handle the pressure. The 1-3-1 with Prather at the top -- a defense that’s served Florida well against bigger opponents -- figures to make an appearance. 


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