Opportunity Knocks For Young Gators

The Florida Gators certainly have an impressive enough record with 17 wins in 20 games including a 4-1 start in the SEC. The Gators have bounced back from each setback, winning six straight after losing to Florida State, capturing four in a row following their loss at Ohio State and have won twice since coming up short at Ole Miss.

But one thing that is lacking is a "signature" win. Florida does not have a win over a team ranked in the top 50 in the RPI. But that could change Sunday when No. 14 ranked Vanderbilt comes to town. Florida has dominated this rivalry in recent years, winning 12-of-14 contests, but this could well be the best team Vanderbilt has assembled in that time. Still, Florida coach Billy Donovan wouldn't characterize this game as a measuring stick for his squad.

"I don't know if I look at it as a measuring stick as much as I do look at it as a different challenge right now," Donovan said. "We're playing against a team that is without question one of the best teams in the SEC and one of the best teams in the country. They've got a great inside/outside combination and they're playing very well. I think it's another experience that will help our guys in their growth and development as a team going forward."

The thing that has made Vandy better this year is the addition of 6-11 Australian A.J. Ogilvy who is averaging 18.5 points and 6.8 rebounds. Pair him with sharp shooting small forward Shan Foster (20.1/4.9) and you have the inside/outside combo Donovan was referring to. The Gator coach talked about what challenges in dealing with the big Aussie brings.

"I think he's without question one of the best players in the country in the frontcourt," Donovan said. "He has maybe impacted Vanderbilt's team as much as any freshman has impacted any team across the country. He's got great hands. He can drive it. He's a guy to me who posts and seals and scores before he ever catches the basketball. I think like a Patrick Patterson and like a Dominique Archie against Ogilvy. Marreese is going against a really good frontcourt player that he'll have to be ready to go against."

"I don't think that Marreese can guard this guy by himself. He's going to need some help. I don't think the onus falls on Marreese to keep Ogilvy from catching the ball at certain places on the court. It's got to be a group effort. Just like it's got to be a group effort on Shan Foster. We can't just put one guy on him and say go ahead and stop him and shut him out."

Vanderbilt starts three seniors in forward Ross Neltner (8.3/5.4) and guard Alex Gordon (10.6) in addition to Foster. That experience should make the Commodores a very solid team away form home, but so far they are winless in two SEC road games. Vandy fell to Kentucky and Tennessee and they were out muscled in the paint in both contests.

The Gators need to make this game physical, even though Vandy is the older, more physically mature basketball team. The extra day to prepare should come in handy since Donovan needs all the time he can get to show his young squad all the different things Vandy coach Kevin Stallings might throw at them.

"When you have a very smart, cerebral group that has a high skill level you can be a little more innovative and creative offensively," Donovan said. "So there's a lot to get prepared for. We're probably not going to be able to give our guys the entire package because we could big them down mentally. I think the first thing we have to do is have a level of energy, enthusiasm and excitement. One of the challenges for our coaching staff is to try to find a way to do some things to slow them down a little bit with all the points they can score and how they shoot it beyond the three point line."

  • Vandy's last win in Gainesville came in 2001
  • Vandy beat the Gators in Nashville (83-70) last season
  • Foster's 20.1 points per game leads the SEC, Ogilvy is fifth
  • Vandy is the top three-point shooting team in the SEC (.424)
  • Florida is the top overall shooting team in the SEC (.503)
  • Vandy leads the SEC in scoring at 84.9 points per game

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

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