UF hoping to be full strength for Wake Forest

Just when the Gators expected to have their normal team together, it looks like an illness could keep that from happening.

After Florida pummeled Jacksonville on Sunday, Billy Donovan sat at the podium beaming ear-to-ear about the thought of a full week of practice with his full roster. The Gators expect to get Alex Murphy back on Saturday, giving them nine scholarship players eligible and healthy enough to play.

But now it looks like that might not happen.

Eli Carter hasn’t practiced this week after feeling sick and being diagnosed with strep throat. His status is up in the air for Saturday’s game against Wake Forest (5 p.m., TV: FS1), but the Gainesville Sun reported on Friday that Carter will make the trip to Miami with the team.

It’s the latest in a long line of setbacks for Carter since coming to Gainesville. He played in five games last year before taking a redshirt and letting his broken leg completely heal. This year, he suffered a mid-foot sprain early in the season and missed time. He was starting to get back in the flow with Florida when the illness hit earlier this week.

"I feel bad for him,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s never been able to quite get into that kind of rhythm that he had in the Miami game. He’s a really good kid. It’s been an uphill climb for him up the way. But the one thing about him is, if there’s one guy who can handle it, it’s him. He’s pretty even-keel. He doesn’t get too high, get too low. He pretty much stays on an even-keel."

The Gators are expecting Murphy to be on the floor Saturday, but it depends on whether or not his grades from the fall semester are posted before the game.

“I’m remaining optimistic there isn’t anything I’ve been told that it’s definitely not happening, I haven’t been told it definitely is happening,” Donovan said. “Just trying to remain optimistic he’ll get an opportunity to play on Saturday.”

If Murphy is able to rejoin the team, he’ll give the Gators a versatile body that can play almost anywhere. Donovan said Murphy can play power forward, small forward and even small forward if the Gators want to go with a bigger lineup.

“I think Alex’s position is an interesting one just because he’s pretty cerebral, he can play a lot of different positions,” Donovan said. “We can move him around and I think for him we can play somewhat big because he can slide back and play at two for us. We can play a little bit smaller and we can play him at the four and Doe-Doe at the five. We’ve got a little bit more flexibility in terms of the lineup and that I think will be a work in progress for our team in terms of practice is concerned.”

The Gators take on Wake Forest in The Orange Bowl Classic on Saturday. It will be the 16th time Florida plays in the event, boasting a 13-2 record in previous stops in Sunrise, Fla. The Demon Deacons bring a 5-5 record into Saturday, including losses to Arkansas, Iona, Deleware State, Minnesota and North Carolina State.

Riding a three-game losing streak into this matchup, the Gators will face a familiar name. Mitchell Wilbekin, the younger brother of Scottie Wilbekin, is in the starting lineup and averaging 7.6 points and 1.8 assists.

“I think scoring for Mitchell comes very easy,” Donovan said. “I think it’s pretty impressive for him as a freshman to be able to shoot the percentage he’s shooting from behind the 3-point line. As a freshman, he’s getting a great opportunity there with (first-year head coach Danny Manning).”

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