Gators Ready for Opener vs. UNC-Wilmington

Billy Donovan had a message to send early in the second half of Florida's final exhibition game. He benched the starters for a lack of focus and intensity, allowing Georgetown College to get back in the game. Since the exhibition season ended, the Florida head coach has continued to use that instance as a teaching point.

"It got addressed," Billy Donovan said. "It's something we really talked about. We had better practices from that. The thing all the time is that it's not so much the handling of expectations as much as it's the handling of prosperity. It's not that we're supposed to be great. It's that handling of prosperity."

The difference in play from the first half to the second half was easily noticed in the two exhibition games. In the first half, the Gators are holding the opponents to 34% shooting from the field and 22% from the 3-point line. In the second half, they're allowing opponents to shoot 54% from the field and 42% for three.

For a team that has four upperclassmen starters, it's frustrating for Donovan to feel like he needs to reteach elementary parts of the game.

"Can you play with a lead Can you play when it's 44-19? It's a mentality you have to have where the first four minutes in the second half and letting that team know, we aren't letting you back in the game," Donovan said. "It's something they're aware of and trying to address. They have to change their mentality and perspective. There's a killer mentality that we have to get better at. We don't have it at the level I'd like for us to have it at."

IMPROVING SHOOTING PERCENTAGE: Donovan spoke all offseason about needing his team to mature and learn to take better shots. They shot 44% from the field last season, but he wants that number higher this year.

They shot 52% from the field in the exhibition games. Despite the subpar competition and small sample size, Donovan likes the way his shooters are coming around. The most important thing is the shooters having another year in the offense to know what the preferred shots are.

"The thing you always try to look at is getting good shots," Donovan said. "Last year with Erving and Kenny being young, it was a learning process for those guys. I really think those guys have a much better feel and understanding for shots and where they should could from. You're always trying to make sure we're getting high percentage shots, and I think we've done that."

WILBEKIN INJURY STATUS: Freshman point guard Scottie Wilbekin missed the Georgetown College game because of a strained neck he suffered against Florida Tech. He returned to practice on Tuesday, practiced half of the time on Wednesday and returned fully on Thursday.

There are no lingering issues, and he has handled contact in practice. His conditioning is now the worry. Wilbekin couldn't lift his arms above his shoulders, so his movement was limited as much as possible.

"I would say for Friday's game, we're expecting him to play," Donovan said.

EARLY SEASON SUCCESS: Donovan has experienced plenty of early season success in his career at Florida. They are 14-0 in season openers under Donovan, and the Gators are 61-7 in November since he took over.

"When you play that early in the season, I don't know if everyone has evolved into who they'll become," Donovan said. "We've played some teams at this time of the year that we were maybe ahead."

Despite the success, the challenge for Donovan is to keep his team focused on the long season. He knows the best way for that to happen is to focus on each game, instead of the schedule as a whole.

"Because the season is long, you can get caught looking at the season," Donovan said. "I know this sounds like a coaching cliché, but we have to prepare today so that we're better off for tomorrow. When you talk about looking at games in last November and December, there's going to be some ebbs and flows. We've got to work on addressing our things that we have to get better at."

SCOUTING UNC WILMINGTON: The Seahawks come to Gainesville Friday night under first-year head coach Buzz Peterson. He formerly coached at Tennessee from 2002-2005, but his Volunteer teams had a 3-5 record against the Gators and went 1-3 when playing in Gainesville.

"People know of Buzz Peterson being in this league from Tennessee, so he's very familiar with Florida," Donovan said. "He's always been very creative on offense. You see certain sets that you won't see during the course of the year. They're raising the floor and making a lot of Princeton cuts right now."

Regardless of the offense Donovan sees from UNC Wilmington on film, he knows there will be wrinkles on Friday night.

"It's always hard because in exhibition games, we didn't show everything," Donovan said. "I'm sure they didn't show everything. When you're going into these games trying to get prepared, you're going off the shell and the core of what they're doing. There will be some tweaks Friday that we haven't seen. You get nervous about where your team has prepared."
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