Key Stretch Before SEC

Eleven games into the season, the Gator Basketball team has a 10-1 record with four games remaining before the start of SEC play. While we have learned a great deal about Billy Donovan's new-look squad, there is still one burning question that we don't know the answer to.

Is this team going to be tough enough?

The early returns have been mixed. The first team to play Florida physically was Florida State and the Gators, frankly backed down. FSU manhandled the young Gators in the O'Dome in posting a 65-51 win that was not nearly as close as the score might indicate. The Seminoles out rebounded the Gators 37-22, and only a miserable three point shooting night (3-for-15) kept Florida within hailing distance.

Then on Saturday, Georgia Southern outfought the Gators most of the way before Florida rallied late to survive 52-49. That the Gators came back to win the battle on the boards and get the win is a step in the right direction, but only a step. I asked Donovan how he can get his team to respond more quickly and effectively to physical play.

"I really think, Larry that we made some good strides," Donovan said. "When you talk about physical play and toughness and those sorts of things a lot of people think that means the strongest person. And that's not necessarily the case. You can be physical by setting a screen. I thought Nick Calathes late in the game showed great toughness. We had no time outs and about 18 seconds on the clock and he had the toughness to break away and get open and go get the ball. I thought (Dan) Werner played tough. I thought our defense -- we held them to 20 points in the second half -- made some strides in those areas."

"In the Florida State game I think you saw our offense and the way it was going affect our defense, and I think that's a toughness thing. It's a mental toughness that when things aren't going well we gotta find a way to win the game. I understand that Georgia Southern is maybe not the kind of team we're going to be playing in the SEC or even Ohio State and Temple for that matter. But as a coach all I can ask for is that they make strides in that area."

Donovan also pointed out that as with past teams, there may be a limit to just how physical any of these guys will be able to be on the floor.

"There was a lot of criticism with our team several years ago with David Lee and Matt Bonner that they were not tough and were not physical and I never felt that way," he said. "Matt Bonner and Davis always tried to play physical, but there was only a certain amount of physicality they could give."

"We've got to play as physical as we can. A lot of times that physical (play) means stepping in and taking a charge or blocking somebody out. It's going to be hard for me to expect Chandler Parsons to move (Alabama forward) Richard Hendrix out of the way. That doesn't mean he's not physical enough, he just might not be capable of doing it. That would be like me running an offense that expects Chris Richard to make three point shots. I think there are certain things physically that we are capable of that we've gotten better at that I didn't think we were doing early in the year."

Two Gator players talked about how Florida needs to respond better when other teams get physical.

Jai Lucas: "We just have to be tougher. We're not used to playing against that kind of physicality and we've got to play through the contact. They weren't calling fouls (Saturday) like we're used to them calling fouls. The way Dan (Werner) played in the second half is the way everyone is going to have to come at the game."

Dan Werner: "We may not be as fortunate to come back (next time) like we did against Georgia Southern. Against other teams like FSU we might not be able to come back. In that game we didn't. So we can't get down in a hole because it's tough to dig yourself out of it."

We'll see how physical the play is on Wednesday when the Gators host Charleston Southern. And we'll also see how the Gators respond. One thing is certain, come Saturday afternoon in Columbus it will be very physical.

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


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