Gators Win Ugly over Southern Utah

Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan watched his 18th ranked Gators play ugly and still win by double digits Thursday night in front of more than 10,000 at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville. The Southern Utah Thunderbirds made the Gators play long possessions on the defensive end and kept the game competitive. Donovan was pleased with the defensive poise his team showed in the 64-50 win.

One of the uglier facets of the game was the shooting from beyond the 3-point arc. The Gators made only 1-of-16 on the night from the 3-point line and went 39:37 seconds before junior forward Dan Werner sank the first 3-point shot on the night. They were 23-seconds away from snapping a 546-game streak of consecutive games with a 3-point shot that dated back to the 1992 season.

Donovan talked last week of how he knew the team would face adversity from the arc, every team does. He wasn't disappointed in the shots the team took, they just didn't go in.

"It certainly was not a pretty game," Donovan said. "How quickly the shooting could leave us as a team tonight. We made 14 threes in our last game and couldn't throw the ball in the ocean tonight. We always talk about how fragile shooting the ball is. We must have had of our 16 threes, ten of them hit the back of the rim. Our guys being a little bit short on their shot and we probably could have made about 12-13 threes.

"We looked like we were a great shooting team and had gotten a lot better and shooting 41% in two games and we are probably back down to 32% like we were a year ago," he said. "The one thing I was happy was we took 50 shots from the field and in some of our games we have taken half of our shots from the three point line. We had a couple of bad shots from three, but for the most part I thought we had pretty decent looks when we took the threes."

Donovan actually quipped about the possibility of breaking the three point streak.

"I didn't even realize we had gone that many games making a three," he said. "Thank God we knocked down a three with 22 seconds to go. For 39 minutes and 40 seconds we certainly couldn't do many shooting clinics."

The Thunderbird's were led in scoring by 6-4, 195 pound forward Davis baker who scored a game high 25 points. Baker found his shot from long range and took a lot of wide open shots for most of the game. He was 3-for-6 from 3-point range and wasn't challenged much until Florida All-American guard Nick Calathes was forced to guard him. Despite the wide open shots baker got, Donovan was pretty pleased with the Gators defense.

"The thing I was really proud of our t team...we made some growth," Donovan said. "Last year when we had a shooting night like that we wouldn't have tried to play defense. I thought our offense tonight frustrated us and we never forced them to guard for stretches of time. They made us guard for 35 seconds every single time down the court.

"It was a frustrating game for our guys to play. The one thing we have been preaching is we have got to make sure we defended. We did a pretty good job defensively...they shot 43% which is probably too high, but they shot 31% from three."

The game started off slow on the scoreboard as it has for all of the Gators' games so far this season. Freshman center Kenny Kadji got the Gators their first lead of the game with almost three minutes gone on the clock. His offensive rebound and short jumper put the Gators up 5-4 and the Gators would lead for the rest of the game.

The Gators would build on that lead for the next five minutes getting it up to nine points when senior guard Walter Hodge stole the ball and dished it to Kadji for a thunderous dunk that got the crowd going.

Kadji made his presence felt inside early in the game and played a season high 16 minutes recording eight points, two rebounds and a block in a nice effort according to Donovan who approached him prior to the game for a little motivating personal speech.

"I will say that it's been a couple of days with him dealing with me," Donovan said about trying to light a fire under the talented rookie. "I don't mean that in a bad way. My job and my responsibility is to help him reach his fullest potential. A lot of young players when coaches get on them, the first thing is to deflect it, or get down, or feel sorry for themselves.

"The thing I asked him when I was recruiting him was, 'Do you really want to be pushed and challenged every day? Because if you don't then this isn't the place for you.' He said, "Yes Coach, that's what I want.' I just reminded him of that. I asked him 'Is that what you want?' he said, 'Yes." He appeared more focused, more alert, and more ready in a lot of different ways.

Donovan wasn't happy with the ball control. He talked about the time of possession and that the Gators rushed a lot of their shots. The Gators came out shooting deep and taking quick shots, then finally settled down, drove to the basket and made things happen underneath.

"We made careless turnovers, missed opportunities on the break, shot the ball too quick, tried to score too quick," Donovan said. "They were so frustrated that we got way over anxious on offense. We have been a high assist team the entire year. When you see a team that shoots 1-16 from the three point line and look at (only) 12 assists, you would think we would shoot a very low percentage. We shot a pretty decent percentage from the field. The problem was we only had 12 assists. I thought our offense was so quick, we never once got deep in the shot clock and tried to score in the first 10-12 seconds of every possession."

Even the Gators assist king Calathes only finished with four assists on the night. A team that usually wins the assist battle actually lost that battle 15-12 Friday night. Fortunately guys like Calathes found other ways to get the ball to the basket. Calathes led all Gators in scoring with 18, shooting 6--for-13 from the field including 0-for-5 from 3-point range. He like the others was disruptive on defense finishing with two steals, a block, and numerous altered shots.

Donovan isn't worried about the low assist total in the win. He believes this game can be a huge tool in learning how to play better as the season goes on.

"I am not worried about it because we have always been a very high assist team," Donovan said. "One of the greatest strengths of our team is that we have a very high basketball IQ team, we pass and move the ball pretty well. This is a game we didn't do that, but I think we have the ability to be a great assist team. This was in a way an opportunity for us to get better.

I was much more pleased in this game with the way we won than beating Bradley or Toledo by 20-plus points because this forced us to grow in a different way than those other two games did."

The Gators ran up a 16-point margin with 3:51 left in the half on a Kenny Kadji short jumper before sliding a bit with four turnovers in the remaining time in the half. The Gators led by eight at the half 33-25.

The Gators also struggled from the free throw line in the game shooting 17-for-27 (63%) on the night including a 1-for-6 start from the charity stripe. Donovan just thinks his guys were a little too eager to play the game and not letting the game come to them

"I felt our guys were really excited to play, that was really encouraging to me," he said. "I almost felt like we were so excited to play that it effected our concentration. We seemed over anxious and ahead mentally of what was going on. At the free throw line we weren't relaxed, we were almost hurried to see the ball go in the basket. I think that was one of our problems last year when we shot the ball. When you are a good offensive player you always get enjoyment of seeing the ball go through the basket. But, when you skip the process of preparing to put the ball in the basket, you never really do as well as you want. We just needed to relax and slow it down."

The defense on the night was sparked by freshman swing man Ray Shipman. Shipman was big on the full court press and accounted for four steals on the night to go with his four points and an assist in 13 minutes of play. Shipman has shown that he has a little something the Gators were missing last season.

"Shipman adds a different element, there is no question," Donovan said. "When we got him in there he changed the game a little bit on the defensive end of the floor. The problem was we weren't scoring enough to get the press on. I though the press was really effective in the second half."

The Gators largest lead of the game was 17 points at the 12:36 point of the second half. That lead dwindled back down to ten again with about five minutes left, but the Gators managed to hold from there and finish with the final 14-point difference.

Calathes was the only Gator to finish in double-digit scoring on the night. Florida's leading scorer through their first two games, junior Dan Werner, finished with nine points on only 3-9 shooting. Werner added six rebounds, two assists and a steal in his 32 minutes of play.

Starting forward Chandler Parsons also struggled again and had his fewest minutes of the young season at 19. Parsons went 1-for-3 although he did shoot well from the free throw line going 5-for-6 and finishing with seven points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal. He also had three turnovers.

Freshman guard Erving Walker logged 23 minutes in the game and struggled with the ball turning it over four times on the night. He also continued his bad shooting so far this season going 0-for-3 on the evening. Freshman forward Allan Chaney continues to do a lot of the little things and show a great deal of versatility while on the floor. He finished with six points, two steals, and two rebounds in only 11 minutes of play.

Donovan likes what he is getting from his young guys.

"I was really pleased with the freshmen," he said. "They really did a good job. I think Erving has struggled since the exhibition games. He has had some good looks and hasn't made shots but is one of those guys we feel when he shoots the ball you think it is going in. Shipman, Allan Chaney, and Kadji are doing a good job. The only thing they are lacking is experience and sometimes they get fatigued really quickly. I really enjoy coaching those four guys.

"The best thing about those four guys is that they have a great mental disposition. They really hang on all of our words as coaches and try and get better and improve on the things we want them to."

Starting guard Walter Hodge was productive when in the game. Hodge only scored one point in his 31 minutes, but he had three rebounds, dished out three assists, and had three steals on the night.

The Gators may have gotten the most production per minute from sophomore center Alex Tyus. Tyus finished with eight points on 4-for-5 shooting, six rebounds, and a steal in only 21 minutes. Tyus was limited after getting early fouls in the game.

With the win, the Gators move to 3-0 and head to Kansas City Monday to play in the semifinals of the O'Reilly Car Parts CBE Classic against Syracuse. The game will be televised live on ESPN2 at 7:30 p.m. and the winner will go on to play the winner of the Kansas/Washington matchup. The losers will match up and both games will be the very next day.

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