Gators Prepare for Stretch Run

The most difficult part of Florida's conference schedule starts Saturday afternoon. The Gators have played seven games against conference teams already, but they'll close out the schedule with five of the remaining nine games against rivals Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The Commodores come to town on Saturday, and while they might not be ranked, they have Florida's full attention.

"There's no question the stretch we have coming up is going to be very demanding and tough," Donovan said Friday. "What you have to do is put your focus and energy into what's in front of you. With the short preparation, everything is focused on Vanderbilt."

Vanderbilt stated the season ranked in the top ten of every college basketball poll because of the talent they brought back from last season. All four starters are back from last year's team, giving them plenty of stability.

However, that took a hit before the 2011-12 season ever started.

Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli was suspended for the first six games of the season after he accepted a meal and hotel room from a university alumnus. The Commodores have some similarities to Florida, as they put four shooters around their big man, Ezeli. Taking him out of the fold hurt their offense and caused them to fall out of the polls.

"When you take Ezeli off the floor, there's a different dimension that gets taken away from their team just because of his size and athleticism," Donovan said. "He can physically impact the game. Not only do they have a great shooting team, but they have a great presence in the middle."

It took Ezeli some time to get back in the flow of the game, but he has started to come on recently. The redshirt senior is averaging nine points and 6.4 rebounds per game while averaging 22.6 minutes per game, fifth on the team.

The 6-11, 255-pounder will challenge Florida's strength in the paint.

"He's an incredible space eater and great shot blocker," Donovan said. "(Vanderbilt head coach) Kevin (Stallings) has done a great job to get him from where he was as a freshman to where he is now. He has made some incredible growth in terms of his offensive game. When he first got into the league, he was just this guy that could run and block shots but didn't have a real good feel for the game. He has developed offensively.

"He's really good at creating situations for himself where he scores before he even catches the ball because he understands positioning on the floor and can work people up the lane. He can make lefty or righty jump hooks. The thing you have to eliminate with him is where he gets deep in the paint and can take a two-foot jump hook."

Around Ezeli, Vanderbilt can stretch the court. Three of the starters are shooting over 43% from behind the three-point line. Senior point guard Brad Tinsley (43.8%) is averaging 9.4 points per game and a team high 4.5 assists. John Jenkins (44.1%) and Jeffery Taylor (46.3%) are threats once they step inside the half court line. Even power forward Lance Goulbourne is 14-38 (36.8%) from behind the arc.

Taylor leads the team in three-point percentage, but it's Jenkins that is the biggest threat. Donovan grouped him with former Arkansas shooter Rotnei Clarke and former Tennessee guard Chris Lofton as the three best shooters he has seen in his 16 years in the SEC. He also added a note that he took Lee Humphrey out of the equation since he coached him.

Jenkins has hit 82 three-pointers this season while Taylor is second place on the Commodores with 37.

"He's a great player," Donovan said of Jenkins. "He is one of the best shooters that I've seen in this league. He's a guy that can knock shots down and do it in pressure with a lot of defense on them and guys challenging the shots."

The Gators can't just focus in on Jenkins and hope to keep the Vanderbilt offense down. The other four starters are talented enough on the offensive end to keep Florida from being able to double team Jenkins very often.

"The reason they're a very good team is they have a lot of answers besides him," Donovan said. "Taylor is a really good small forward that's as good as there is. Ezeli is as good as any center in this league. Then they've got Tinsley and Goulbourne who are seniors. As much as you want to focus on Jenkins and take him away, they have enough players around him to put you in a bind."

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