Florida defense improves in win

It was only an exhibition game last week, but Billy Donovan wasn’t happy with his team’s defense in a win over Barry University. Friday night’s effort in a 68-45 win over William & Mary in the season opener was exactly what Donovan wanted to see.

The Gators allowed Barry University to shoot 38.7 percent, and the Buccaneers also took 26 3-pointers. They made only six, but allowing that many open shots was a concern for Billy Donovan.

The Princeton style offense from William & Mary made that concern grow. The backcourt cuts and effective passing had Donovan nervous all week in practice, even telling his players they needed to be prepared for an offense that was like going up facing “psychological warfare.” They had to stay disciplined and handle the Tribe.

And that’s exactly what Donovan’s group did.

William & Mary shot 31.6 percent (18-57) from the field and 9.1 percent (2-22) from behind the 3-point line. Guard Marcus Thornton, who came into the game as the NCAA’s active leading scorer, was held to 10 points on 3-11 from the field and 0-5 from behind the 3-point line.

“I thought we were better defensively. We made some good strides. We moved better, and they’re a hard team to guard. We did a good job defensively.”

Donovan mentioned Kasey Hill specifically for his defensive effort. Hill’s offensive night wasn’t what it will be during the year -- just three points and three assists but he drew the defensive assignment on Thornton. The Florida coach was pleased with how Hill and Jon Horford handled the pick-and-rolls, and Hill’s quickness allowed him to stay with Thornton to contest his shots.

The Florida press did its damage, too. William & Mary had 12 turnovers, with seven of those coming in the second half. The press was active and even featured freshman Chris Chiozza, using his energy to create havoc in the backcourt. The point guard led the Gators with three steals.

“He’s huge,” Florida center Jon Horford said. “If he can come in and bring energy like that every day, it’s something we’ll feed off of and something our team needs. His energy will be important.”

It’s just a start for this Florida team, and they know that. William & Mary is a solid team to open with, but they aren’t close to the teams Florida will see through the rest of its non-conference schedule and into Southeastern Conference action.

But for now, progress is what matters.

“That’s all we want -- gradual improvement,” Horford said. ‘We’re not looking to make leaps and bounds. It’s a little bit at a time, a little bit at a time and then at the end of the year, you’re really where you need to be. As long as we’re moving forward as a team, we’re happy.”

That’s what Donovan saw on Friday night. The Gators are far from a finished product and will have a test on Monday when Miami comes to town.

“Our whole team got better from last week,” Donovan said. “I saw some growth individually, and I saw some growth collectively.”

INJURY REPORT: Just minutes into the game, Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith was subbed out of the game and went to the locker room with trainer Duke Werner. He returned later in the first half with his left hand and wrist heavily taped.

He ended the game with 15 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes of action.

The initial diagnosis is a sprained hand. He went to the hospital after the game to get X-rays to confirm that before making a decision on his availability for the game on Monday against Miami.

”I would assume he’d be able to play,” Donovan said. “We were able to throw him back in the game there tonight. If he could play tonight, I’d think he could play on Monday.”

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