Opener Gave Gators a Little of Everything

Florida's season-opening 75-65 win over North Dakota State gave Billy Donovan's team a little bit of everything as it begins gaining some experience.

Florida had to rally from a sloppy start, trailing seven-zip after the first three minutes. The Gators played an effective zone to run out to a comfortable 14-point halftime lead. Donovan's youthful charges also had to withstand repeated challenges from an experienced, skilled opponent and make clutch plays on both ends of the floor.

Donovan saw plenty to like about his kids as well as a great deal for Florida to work on and learn from. That's exactly what you hope for in your first game, particularly with so little known about this team.

Speights Struggles a Long Term Plus

Conventional wisdom has held that Florida would be okay at center and the one thing they could count on was strong performances from sophomore Marreese Speights every night. After all, Speights was projected by one national analyst as a potential lottery pick despite his pedestrian scoring (4.1) and rebounding (2.7) numbers from a year ago.

Well, the Gators didn't get lottery level play from Speights against the Bison. Speights wasn't awful; he scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds in just 17 minutes on the floor. His limited playing time was not due to foul difficulty, but instead his lack of energy on the glass and four turnovers.

But Florida showed it could do okay even if Speiights and Alex Tyus play just 17 minutes apiece. Dan Werner grabbed seven rebounds, though he still lacks confidence in his shot. Jai Lucas and Walter Hodge grabbed four boards apiece to help the young Gators battle on almost even terms with a larger, more physically developed and mature opponent.

In the Nick of Time

The star of opening night had to be freshman guard Nick Calathes who led all scorers with 21 points Friday night. The rookie from Lake Howell added three assists and two steals in an impressive debut performance. He showed his all court skills and game awareness, but as his four turnovers and one rebound indicate, he showed he was a freshman part of the time, too.

The Gator freshmen combined to outscore their veteran teammates 46 to 29, but that's not the fault of Walter Hodge. The Gators' lone upperclassman looked every bit the leader with his 15 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals without a single turnover. Hodge lets his younger teammates play, but it sure seemed that every time the Gators really needed a basketball, or a steal or a rebound it was Hodge getting it done.

All in all a good way to start a season.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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