Gators Ready for Tenth Game

Billy Donovan's guys have finished up with final exams and now they face the final three weeks of on-court tests before SEC play begins next month. That stretch begins Saturday night in Jacksonville when the Gators take on the Knights of UCF. Florida takes a 7-2 record into the contest while UCF checks in at 5-3.

For Florida it's a chance to build on a 57-point second half in their rout of Florida Gulf Coast. That stretch saw Florida play with as much energy on both ends of the court as they have in any game. It also featured a combined 35 points from veterans Dan Werner and Walter Hodge who were combining for about half that entering the contest.

The game will also give the Gators a bit of a yardstick regarding the SEC since UCF was blown out by Ole Miss 78-46 in November. The Rebels will be Florida's SEC opener in the O'Dome January tenth.

UCF shouldn't be too big of a challenge for the Gators, but one Knight certainly will be. Senior wingman Jermaine Taylor, who averages 21.3 points a game, tops among all college basketball players in Florida. Taylor also is the top rebounder (6.1/g) and shot blocker (8) for UCF.

The Knights are coached by Kirk Speraw who was on Lon Kruger's staff in Gainesville for three seasons before getting the UCF gig in 1993. He has won 334 games in that time, but none in five tries against the Gators. Florida Coach Billy Donovan speaks very highly of the Knights' mentor.

"I have great respect for Kirk, more as a person than anything else getting to know him over the years," Donovan said. "I think he's a terrific coach. I think he'd done a remarkable job at UCF. Anytime a program goes through a transition where they are constantly changing leagues and making that jump up there's always a time you're trying to catch up through your recruiting. He, to me has been able to handle that transition really well. His teams are always competitive, they're always in games, they're very good defensively and they're well coached. We'll have a tough game in Jacksonville against them."

As much as Donovan thinks about Speraw he has equally high praise for Taylor who has gone from a freshman averaging just over four points a game to one of the top ten scorers in UCF history.

"I think he may be the most under-exposed player in America. He's good enough to play anywhere. He can score in the mid range. He shoots threes. He's got great athleticism off the floor. He can put it on the floor and create. I think a lot of times when you see guys that get exposed in college basketball his is not a name you would hear. I can say form watching film and knowing our league and the type of players we get to compete against that he might be one of the better kept secrets in the country. Maybe some other guys have gotten more hype, more publicity but clearly just based on what he's been able to do for his team and what he's been able to do on the floor production-wise is pretty impressive."

Donovan is also impressed with the fact that while Taylor is a scorer on the outside, he'll get physical on the boards despite being just 6-4.

"I don't think he's afraid of putting his nose in there. The thing that makes him one of those special players I mention is that he has a special talent to play in the mid range. I really think that a lot of players in today's game are doing one of two things. They're either at the rim or they're shooting threes. One of the things that's maybe gotten lost a little bit in college is playing in the mid range area and he does that as well as anybody."

The game gets underway at 6:30 on Fox Sports Florida. Mark Wise will join me for the telecast. The Gators will quickly follow up with a Monday night game (7:00) against Georgia Southern in the O'Dome.

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