VETTEL: This Team Is A Throwback

In 1994 the Gator basketball team went to the Final Four with a team that was a joy to watch. That group of Gators dove for every ball on the floor, raced into the crowd to save a loose ball and could get down and dirty on defense when they needed a stop. Lon Kruger loved to talk about how easy that team was to root for and with good reason. That team was also great to be around because they were unselfish and driven to win. And they won 29 times before falling to Duke in Charlotte.

This Gators team is every bit as much fun to be around for many of the same reasons. And they are even more entertaining on the floor. This may well be the best transition team Florida basketball has ever had. They go through explosive bursts that leave opponents shell-shocked. And they do it without a care about who is getting the shots. Shoot, these guys would much rather argue about assists and steals.

It's interesting to note the '94 Gators were not expected to do much after losing leading scorer Stacey Poole (16.4) and much heralded transfer Ben Davis. Davis was supposed to provide desperately needed post scoring. Instead Dametri Hill lost a ton of weight, created the shot dubbed "Da-Meat-Hook" and gave Florida 13 points a night. This team refused to let a couple of missing persons change their goals.

Fast-forward to this year where Florida entered the season without the top three scorers from last year. Many long-time Gator basketball observers thought this was the year Billy Donovan's streak of 20-win seasons and NCAA bids was going to end. I wrote in Fightin' Gators Magazine that this was Donovan's toughest coaching challenge. So much for that concern.

Win Number 12 was Exhilarating

Friday's "nooner" over FAMU was in some ways a typical holiday affair and in other ways another example of this team's amazing ability. For the first twelve minutes the Gators struggled with the Rattlers and held just a 23-16 lead. Then all hell broke loose.

The Gators got their transition game going by blocking shots and creating steals and ended the half on a 26-7 run. With a 26-point lead at intermission, the Gators took it up a notch early in the second half. Florida A&M scored the first basket of the second half, but the Gators put the next 23 points on the scoreboard. Thus over a period of 13:45 Florida outscored FAMU 49-to-9! That's ridiculous.

A Florida A&M team that lost by 21 at Georgia trailed Florida by 47 points at one point. Only a merciful emptying of the bench kept UF from a 100-point performance. And it also kept Corey Brewer from his second triple-double. Brewer (eight points, six rebounds and 11 assists) sat out the last eight minutes.

Depth is Coming Around

With five starters averaging in double figures, the Gators have outstanding balance. But one key for this team is developing a reliable bench. That seems to be right on target, too. The bench outscored the starters 29-20 in the first half Friday led by Chris Richard (11) and Adrian Moss (9). That those veterans are able to fill those roles while backing up sophomores Al Horford and Joakim Noah is further evidence of this group's unselfishness. The veteran tandem is combining for 13 points and seven boards a night, easing concerns about early foul trouble heading into conference play.

Still, the greatest concern about this team is how it will perform without point guard Taurean Green. In Florida's four toughest games, Green has averaged 37 minutes on the floor. Eventually Florida must get more and better minutes out of Walter Hodge and David Huertas. Hodge played 23 minutes against FAMU without a turnover and has eleven assists with just two turnovers in his last four games (84 minutes). Huertas scored six on a pair of first half threes and has scored in each of the last seven games.

Just About Time for SEC

The Gators will host Morgan State Tuesday and then it's off to Georgia. The Bulldogs are a better team, with excellent backcourt depth and good balance. A win there and the Gators would be 14-0, tying the school record for consecutive wins. Just another in a line of record-breaking accomplishments for the 2005-06 Gators.

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