Gators getting healthier, improving

The Gators are slowly starting to get healthy and should add another piece on Friday as guard Eli Carter returns to action.

After suffering a mid-foot sprain on November 20, the road back has been slow for Eli Carter. Even though he returned to a game just six days later against Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis, it was clear that he wasn’t the same. He sat out the next night against UAB but tried to come back against North Carolina. He played only 13 minutes and went 0-4 from the floor before Florida coach Billy Donovan decided to shut him down.

He was medically cleared to play the next week while the Gators were preparing to play at Kansas, but the pain was still too much. Carter didn’t make the trip to Lawrence with the team, staying back in Gainesville to go to class and rest the foot. Carter sat out again in Florida’s win over Yale on Monday, but Donovan was optimistic about his health.

Carter returned to practice on Wednesday and was back on the floor when the Gators came back to the practice facility on Thursday. He’s now scheduled to play on Friday against Texas Southern (7 p.m., SEC Network), but it’s uncertain how much of an impact he’ll be able to make.

“I would expect him to play and be available to play tomorrow,” Donovan said. “I don’t know how much yet. He pretty much did everything in practice. I still think he’s not moving as well as I’d like to him to move. I don’t know if that’s him being cautious or him feeling some pain there, but he feels like he can go.”

Dorian Finney-Smith continues to play through pain after suffering a hairline fracture in his left hand during the season opener. It’s still painful when he catches or dribbles the ball, but the brace he wears during games is helping with the pain.

It’s possible that the brace could come off at some point next week, and if not, it will be off soon after that. Finney-Smith wants to practice every day but the trainers are holding him out some to rest the hand.

While the Gators continue to wait for key players to get healthy, Chris Walker has given them a boost. He is averaging 9.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in the last four games, scoring 25 total points in the team’s last two games. The sophomore is playing with energy and buying into what Donovan wants him to be on the court.

“I want him to play to his identity and how he needs to play to help our team,” Donovan said. “He just needs to continue to grow and get better, learn from previous mistakes and experiences. I think some of the games we’ve played earlier in the year have helped him with an understanding where he needs to get better and where he needs to improve. I think he’s worked hard trying to get better in those areas, but I’m not really looking for more out of him or doing anything differently, more so than just getting better with what he’s doing right now.”

Walker and the Gators will have an opportunity to show they can handle success on Friday against Texas Southern (1-6). Coached by former Alabama and Indiana coach Mike Davis, the Tigers are undersized and want to run the floor.

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