Despite Distractions, Gators Blowout Rockets

They have had their fair share of distractions in the last week or so, so forgive the Florida Gators if they started a little sloppy in their season opener against out manned Toledo. The Gators got off to a slow start and didn't take their first lead until 12:54 remained in the first half of play. From that point on they outscored Toledo 68-48 winning 80-58 in their season and home opener.

Last week saw the departure of sophomore guard Jai Lucas who decided he didn't fit well in the Florida system after starting much of last season. On Friday, the day of the Toledo game, Yahoo Sports reported that Gator All-SEC point guard Nick Calathes was being investigated by school officials for alleged gambling. As it tuns out, the alleged acts were not against NCAA rules. In the report, Calathes apparently ran up $600 in online poker debt. Calathes was questioned at length by Yahoo reporters after the game.

"I'm allowed to play online poker," Calathes said shortly after scoring 16 points, pulling down four rebounds, and garnering seven assists and three steals. "I did nothing wrong."

Gators Head basketball Coach Billy Donovan, evidently already hearing enough about the alleged incident decided he didn't need to focus on something he that is a personal thing to Calathes and not against the rules.

"We heard the rumors and we reacted to them, responded to them," Donovan said. "We talked to Nick, we talked to our team and Jeremy Foley (Athletic Director) and Jamie McCloskey (Compliance Director) handled the whole situation. And I'm not going to talk about anything as it relates to this because nobody did anything wrong.

"The only thing I'm going to say about this is the unfortunate party in all of this is nobody on our team has done anything wrong and it's amazing to me how stories can actually be written and talked about when somebody has done nothing wrong."

With all the distractions the Gators got off to a slow start on Friday and didn't have the lead for the first seven minutes of the game. With 12:54 left in the first half and the Gators with their first lead of the game at 12-10, they never looked back. They out scored the Rockets 27-17 to end the half and take a 39-27 lead to half time.

Donovan was pleased with the overall effort of his players.

"I thought our guys came out and played really hard tonight," Donovan said starting his post game press conference. "There were some first game jitters and a lot of time that shows up with the way you shoot the ball and we started out 0-of-6 from the 3-point line."

Toledo guard Jonathan Amos led all scorers on the night with 22 points, including 16 in the first half. He was a little much for the Gators early on. Amos started out hot going 5-of-6 in the first half before only hitting 3-of-10 in the second half.

"I thought their senior guards beating us off the dribble caused some problems for us," Donovan said. "The one guy we struggled with was Amos, he went around us and by us. We had a really tough time containing him, he went by everyone on our team. We just have to try and get better and improve."

One key statistic for the Gators was 25 turnovers caused by their relentless full court defense. The Gators pressed almost the entire game and Toledo was forced into three 10-second violations for not getting the ball over half court in time, among other miscues on their defensive side of the floor.

"The difference in the game was I thought our guys continue to get better in the press," Donovan said. "I don't know if we can press everyone like we did tonight, but I thought the difference in the game was the pressure up the floor. Causing 25 turnovers really helps."

Donovan elaborated that he thinks there are teams that the Gators will be able to press a lot, but they will also have to be creative this season on defense, because of personnel and experience.

"Toledo had a power forward that was a non-handler taking the ball out of bounds," he said. "A lot of times when they were throwing the ball back it was in the hands of a non-handler. If you have four or five guys that can handle the ball, you start getting splits and seams and the floor opens up. A lot of time we are pressing based on the other teams personnel. Today the objective of the press was to get the ball in their power forward and center's hands and make them bring the ball up. I thought the front of our press was great in terms of trying to bring the ball in from out of bounds. We have to be a good effort team in terms of running, sprinting, and chasing and doing those things. I don't think we can be a team that can line up in half court defensively, we are going to have to do some different things.

"We have to be somewhat disruptive, I don't think we can just go back and play just straight man to man defense. Sometimes there are going to be match ups on the floor that are very difficult. The press tonight happened to be the part of our defense that was good."

Junior forward Dan Werner led all Gators in scoring with 19. He also threw in five rebounds, a steal, a blocked shot, and an assist on the evening. Donovan was very pleased with Werner's effort.

"I thought he played too many minutes," Donovan said of Werner. "In the second half he had some turnovers and careless plays, but a lot of that was because of foul trouble. Kenny Kadji had two fouls, Alex Tyus had two fouls, Chandler Parsons had two fouls, then all of a sudden we get caught playing him 18 minutes(in the first half). Then Chandler picks up his third foul and Allan Chaney gave us a great boost. Dan played a terrific game, but I thought he could have played better in the second half if he was a little fresher. He is starting to do some things better than he was doing last year."

Werner has been that guy for Florida that does all the dirty work. He will be one of the team leaders in steals, rebounds, assists, and a slew of things that don't show up in the stat sheet. Werner has improved his shot this off-season so when he started out cold, he wasn't scared to keep putting the ball up. Werner went 3-of-8 in the first half before hitting 5-of-6 in the second and leading the Gators in scoring.

"I felt like my shots in the beginning were right there," Werner said. "I know I have been shooting the ball well in practice so i wasn't worried about that at all. I pride myself in taking care of the ball and I had some really dumb turnovers and we just can't have that."

Doing all the dirty work last season was tough on him. He can see others getting in the mix and the full court press is something that was made for guys like him. He can see the team really making headway with their full court defense. The work was key in causing three ten second violations in the game.

"We were trying to get the ball out of their guards hands and deny their guards so they couldn't get the ball back," Werner said. "I think the bigs would get the ball, and then when the guards got it back they only had two or three seconds to get it across the line. I was really happy about that. Obviously we need depth with that because we are running around like crazy. You need guys off the bench to help us out, ad I think we have that this year...The young guys came in and did well and caused turnovers too. They did a great job."

In only 16 minutes of play freshman wing man Ray Shipman made his presence felt. Shipman scored seven points, had four rebounds, and had two steals. He was also a big part of the reason that Toledo's Amos had a slower second half.

"Ray did a nice job," Donovan said about his rookie. "The one thing I tried to get when we subbed is to get those guys pushing up the floor and pressuring. Ray has got to become that lock-down defender we need on the perimeter. Nick got his first foul with five minutes left in the half we were afraid he would get number two. I love coaching our freshmen because they are so eager to learn. I just have to keep on trying to help them get better."

Besides Shipman, three other freshmen scholarship players played in the game. Guard Erving Walker showed his point guard skills dishing out seven assists with only one turn over. He also added 10 points on the night. Forward Allan Chaney tallied 18 minutes and six points and five rebounds. Center Kenny Kadji saw only four minutes of action due to quick fouls.

Donovan would like to improve on the turnover stat in the game. His team got a little out of focus once the lead got big. Calathes finished with 16 points and seven assists, but also five turnovers on the night. The Gators had 15 turnovers on the evening.

"We got off to a great start in the second half, then got up by 20-25 and then had some careless play," Donovan said. "Overall, I was pleased with their effort. We certainly have room for improvement and areas we have to get better. We probably can't draw on too much because we have to come back Sunday at 2:15, it is a quick turnaround against a very good team.

The Gators take the O'Connell Center floor again on Sunday against Bradley on less than two full days rest. It is something that Donovan knows will be tough on some of his team.

"It's hard," he said. "I think it's good for our team in terms of putting this behind them. Hopefully physically for a guy like Dan, he can get back because he gave an unbelievable effort. We had three guys that played 30-plus minutes. Certainly Bradley has a tough effort, they have to go from Illinois to here."

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