Gators head into important week

Florida won’t play a game until Saturday, but this is an important week for the team with only three games left until the start of conference play.

It’s exam week for the Gators. That usually means the stress away from the court and a number of hours spent studying for final exams. For Florida, it means a lot of time to practice.

Most of the Florida players are done with all of their exams and papers, meaning they’re done with school until the spring semester begins early January.

It comes at the perfect time. Florida has played much better in its last three games. Players have gotten healthy and return (Eli Carter), while other players returned a while ago but have improved as time heals their injuries (Dorian Finney-Smith). Kasey Hill didn’t start on Sunday because of the stomach flu, and the Gators are hoping to get Alex Murphy eligible on Saturday against Wake Forest.

Murphy, who transferred from Duke mid-year last season, is eligible immediately once his final grades are posted from the fall semester. If that happens before Saturday’s game, he will play.

“We’re moving more to a full complement of players, more so than we’ve had in the first part of the season,” Billy Donovan said.

Murphy has just been a body in practice so far this year. The injury problems make that important, but he was used as a number on the team instead of an actual contributor that needed to be prepared to play. That will change this week, throwing Murphy into multiple roles in the lineup to see what he can handle.

He gives them a lot of options. Florida can play really small with Murphy at power forward and Finney-Smith at center. They can go big with Murphy at the small forward and two other big men on the floor. Donovan even said on Sunday that Murphy could play the shooting guard spot in a bigger lineup for the Gators.

“He gives us versatility,” Donovan said. “I’m not acting like Alex is this end-all, be-all savior, but there’s some versatility. That’s one of the things we’ve struggled with -- numbers. We’ve had a difficult time because of injuries. It’s nice to put some different lineups out there, and Alex allows us to do some of that.”

The non-conference schedule started with plenty of challenges before slowing down in the last three games. It’s about to pick up against with games against Wake Forest, Florida State and Connecticut before SEC play begins.

“Everyone’s getting healthy and Murph’s coming back,” Jon Horford said. T”hings are going in the right direction. It’s a good feeling.”

Finney-Smith added, “We’ve got three big games coming up, so it’s a great time for us to get better. We’re going to get better each day.”

CHIOZZA STARTS: With Hill out on Sunday, freshman Chris Chiozza got his first career start. The nerves were easy to see early in the game. He overthought things and didn’t let his normal instincts carry him on the floor.

“He was a little nervous and uptight,” Donovan said. “That bled into his energy a little bit. It was a really good learning experience for him.”

Hill missed shootaround Sunday morning and team doctors tried to settle his stomach. The junior spent the morning throwing up but was able to tough it out and play 21 minutes.

Chiozza played 27 minutes and played well after settling in.

“Chris probably put some pressure on himself, being a freshman in his first time starting,” Donovan said. “He played much better in the second half than he did in the first.”

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