Time For The Real Games To Begin

Just like Tuesday night's first exhibition game of the season, Friday night's final tuneup before the regular season begins for the Florida Gators was over long before halftime. For the second straight game, Florida played lights out in the first half and then played as if someone had pulled the plug on the generator in the second.

The Gators played lights out for a half Friday night against West Florida at the O'Connell Center before going on cruise control in the second half. By the time Florida had finished off West Florida, 84-41, there were some startling similarities to the Gators win over Embry-Riddle Tuesday night in the first exhibition game of the year. Despite apparent similarities, however, Coach Billy Donovan saw progress and he wasn't disappointed in the Gators final tuneup before the real season begins Wednesday night against St. Peter's in the O'Connell Center in the first round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament.

Florida followed a blueprint of Tuesday night's win over Embry-Riddle against West Florida. The Gators clicked on all offensive cylinders in the first half and then they struggled to get points in the second half. Unlike that Tuesday night game, however, Coach Billy Donovan saw his team maintain its defensive intensity and improvement in some key areas.

"I thought we made improvements in the areas that we needed to make improvements from Tuesday which was encouraging," said Donovan, who pointed to improved ball protection, intensity on defense and improved free throw shooting among the areas where he wanted to see progress from game one to game two.

The Gators cut their turnovers from 20 to 14, they improved at the foul line from 12-20 Tuesday to 18-24 on Friday and the defense forced 22 West Florida turnovers that resulted in 37 points.

Additionally, Donovan got five players in double figures led by his hot shooting guard tandem of Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green with 14 points each. Humphrey, who hit 5-9 from the three point line against Embry Riddle, hit his first four threes against West Florida, and Green hit three of his four three-pointers.

They were joined in double figures by Cris Richard (13 points), Joakim Noah (12) and Al Horford (10). Horford was Florida's leading rebounder with nine.

Florida busted out to a 29-5 lead in the first nine minutes of the game as Humphrey hit all four open three-pointers and then capped off his scoring night with by taking his man off the dribble at the key all the way to the rack. Florida finished the half with a 58-22 lead behind 66.7 percent shooting from the field and 70 percent (7-10) from three-point land.

The Gators didn't play with the same level of intensity in the second half, scoring only 26 points and going through stretches of four and five-plus minutes without hitting a shot from the field. Donovan wasn't so concerned with the lack of second half scoring, taking the blame somewhat for calling off the dogs early on against the outmanned Division II Argonauts.

"When you get up to a certain point, you're not trying to embarrass anybody," said Donovan, "but certainly when we don't try to get after people our intensity wanes a little bit."

Green felt that the Gators were a bit complacent once Donovan decided to ratchet down the full court defensive pressure. He felt the Gators should have maintained their intensity even though they were in a half court defensive frame of mind in the second half.

"You can't get complacent just because you're blowing a team out," he said. "It's a mindset that you have to maintain and the whole team has to have it. You have to be able to go for the kill for the full 40 minutes."

Although the Gators didn't play what Donovan would consider a complete game, he saw encouraging signs that his team is coming together. The Gators will be one of the youngest teams in the nation this year with only one senior and two juniors on the roster but unlike most young teams, this one isn't plagued by problems of selfishness. If anything, they can be too unselfish, seeking to pass the ball one extra time instead of finishing on the break.

Donovan credits the unselfishness to a caring mentality which he sees as the key to making progress each practice session and during each game.

"I like coaching them because they are different than most teams and it's hard to explain but they really care about one another and they all really want to play the right way," he said. "They want to play unselfishly, they want to play together, they want to defend and they want to do the right thing.

"Have we made progress? Yes and I think we will continue to make progress but I also feel like the only way you make progress is if you have players that care. If players don't care you never make progress. These guys care about individually getting better and our team getting better so we're going to make progress because of their mindset and their disposition."

As for specific progress Friday night, Donovan said, "I came in here Tuesday and talked about turnovers, I talked about our free throw shooting, lack of intensity and not scoring. They came out and tired to correct those things. They tried to take better care of the ball on the break. We didn't have 20 turnovers tonight. We had a much better assist to turnover ratio and our assists were up. Those are all positive and encouraging things."

The greatest concern for the coach is the length of the season. By participating in the early season tournament, the Gators will stretch the season by two or three weeks.

"What I do worry about with our team is the length of the season because we're starting so early," said Donovan. "January and our first SEC game seems like a long, long way away. I think I've got to be careful and I have to figure out as our staff does that we're getting better and improving but that we're not getting so mentally fatigued.

"You always worry with a young team about mental fatigue and physical fatigue and sometimes mental fatigue is as much more of a problem than the physical fatigue. We have to work to get better because we're so young but we don't need to be physically worn out by January 15 or February."


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