State of the Hogs: Florida

Arkansas plays host to Florida on Saturday. The matchup pits two good friends in opposite benches.

Would an altar boy talk in your back swing on the golf course? Apparently, in the blink of an eye. Florida coach Billy Donovan has been described as a man with great faith. And, he is a former altar boy.

But when Arkansas basketball coach John Pelphrey was asked to describe Donovan's golf game, nothing about his technique or swing was the first thing out of his mouth.

"He'll talk in your backswing," Pelphrey said. "What you have to know about Billy is that he is the ultimate competitor and that is on the golf course or anywhere else."

Rob Evans, the veteran on Pelphrey's UA staff, laughed about those words. He's heard Pelphrey talk about his golf outings with Donovan.

"I've heard that," Evans said. "It isn't a big surprise. That's the way golf is with a lot of coaches. Billy is not the only coach who will talk in your backswing. There are some that are just plain cheaters. Billy Tubbs is the worst. He will lie about his handicap. He'll cheat. He'll beat you before you tee off. I've lost to Billy on the first tee."

Altar boy or not, that competitive spirit is easy to spot with Donovan. Obviously, he's done well in recruiting. After winning back-to-back national titles and losing all five starters to the pro ranks this past spring, Donovan has Florida back in the top 25 with perhaps the SEC's best team again this season.

The Hogs play host to the Gators at 2 p.m. Saturday in what will be an emotional game for Pelphrey, longtime assistant to Donovan at Marshall and Florida. They keep tabs on each other during the season and spoke by telephone Monday.

"I asked him who they had next," Pelphrey recalled, "and he said, ‘You.'"

That's when it dawned on Pelphrey that Donovan was already into his Arkansas preparations since the Gators were open during the middle part of this week.

Pelphrey's words for Donovan drip with respect. He knows the youthful Gators are coached by maybe the nation's best. They will test the Hogs in every way. They utilize the 3-point line as well as anyone in the country and have the complementary inside game, too.

"They score the ball as good as anyone," he said. "They have perfect spacing and they are awesome at passing and shooting. They are lethal."

The Gators stress 3-point shooting, but they also seem to have the league's best low-post presence, too. They also can hurt you in transition.

"I told our guys we can't let them go to the buffet line and get a little of everything," Pelphrey said. "They do try to get a little of everything — free throws, layups, dunks, 3-point shots and they score some easy baskets on the fast break. Billy does a great, great job of exploiting what you have. If you look at Florida every year, they seem to be in the top three in scoring. They are always going to score the ball."

The Hogs have some weapons, too. Sonny Weems might be the league's hottest player, unless it's Florida freshman Nick Calathes. Weems is on a 3-point tear of late. He hit 5 of 10 threes to help the Hogs romp past Mississippi State on Wednesday.

It's about taking what the defense gives, insisted Weems. After pushing off the bounce earlier this year, Weems has added a tough 3-point shot, sometimes fading away on catches and off of screens.

"I've worked hard on my 3-point shot after practice," Weems said. "I don't leave until I've made 15 shots on all five of the spots around the 3-point line, corner to corner."

Weems had one cool stretch to open the second half against Mississippi State. He eventually bounced out of it with a stick-back basket. He was close to shutting down his attempts, but Pelphrey encouraged more shots.

"He told me to keep shooting," Weems said. "He wanted us to stay aggressive, keep attacking." Pelphrey did admit that some of the shots Weems made in a torrid first-half streak were difficult attempts, perhaps borderline.

"They were hard and if they hadn't gone in maybe we would have had a different conversation," Pelphrey said. "But I wanted him to keep shooting in the second half as long as he wasn't tentative. You see someone shoot and maybe they pull back their hand, or you see a tentative look on their face or their manner. He wasn't like that and I wanted him to keep looking for his shot.

"I look for a mentality and an attitude (to determine) if it's a good shot. If you see shot attempts become tentative, then you need to talk to them and get that changed. I didn't see that with Sonny. What I saw was that maybe we just weren't loose coming out of the half. We have that happen sometimes. So you need to encourage at that point."

Weems wasn't talking about any of that Thursday afternoon. It was all about Florida, nothing about beating the Bulldogs by 20.

"We know we have a great challenge in front of us," Weems said. "Florida is a great team and they have a great, great coach in Billy Donovan. They have a great transition game. Our focus has been defense and we'll have to play great defense in this game. You have to maintain your defensive focus against a team like Florida."

What about Donovan's tactics on the golf course? Obviously, he will try to disrupt your focus on the links.

"Man, I know nothing about golf," Weems said. "He talks in your backswing? Is that bad or good? I couldn't begin to tell you. I can tell you that he can really coach basketball."

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