Gators Set to Host Hogs

Fresh off a road win over Auburn the Gator basketball team returns to the O'Connell Center Saturday afternoon to welcome the Arkansas Razorbacks. Florida is looking for a third straight win to start conference play while Arkansas is seeking its first SEC win after losses to Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

Arkansas' slow start in the SEC is surprising since the Razorbacks beat both Texas and Oklahoma in the two weeks prior to the start of league play.

One of the top challenges Arkansas posed is 6-9 forward Michael Washington who Billy Donovan considers an SEC Player of the Year candidate. Washington (17.1/10.5) is the only SEC player averaging a double-double and will prove to be a handful for Alex Tyus and the rest of the Florida front court. He's supported by junior guard Stefan Welsh (13.1) giving the Hogs two veteran players to go with a pair of excellent freshmen in Courtney Fortson (15.0) and Rotnei Clarke (11.5) giving Arkansas four players averaging in double figures.

Arkansas has struggled to shoot the ball in its two conference games, making just 16 percent of their shots from three point range (6-for-37). Additionally the Hogs have shot a miserable 59 percent from the free throw line. As a result they averaged just 60.5 in the two setbacks.

The Gators are coming off a win at Auburn in which they too found the basket a difficult target. Billy Donovan's team made just 5-of-23 (.217) on the night, but Auburn (5-of-27, .185) was even worse. It was the Gators ninth straight win overall and the third straight tight game they have been able to find a way to get a win. Alex Tyus had a double-double at auburn (14/12) but he'll face a bigger physical challenge against Washington.

The game is also a homecoming for John Pelphrey who served as an assistant to Donovan with the Gators for six seasons. He helped build the Florida program and was on the staff when the Gators reached the Final Four in 2000. He's in is second year with Arkansas (35-15) after five years as the head coach at South Alabama (80-67).

Billy Donovan shared his thoughts on the Razorbacks, the Gators and Pelphrey.

LV: This is the third straight tight game you've been in that your guys have found a way to overcome adversity and win. They didn't overcome much adversity last year. How encouraging is that?

BD: I think so, Larry. Every game's a little different. I still think there are some things we have to get better at. Auburn may be undersized, but they are certainly very experienced with all juniors and seniors. For a guy like Erving Walker to be in there at the end of the game on his first road game in the SEC hopefully he gained some valuable experience. I think the way Kenny Kadji played coming off the bench hopefully brings to light for him the importance of being a consistent guy in terms of his effort. You always hope the experiences you go through help you grow and get better.

LV: What's your impression of Arkansas? What stands out about them?

BD: I think they're a really talented team. They have a lot of terrific young players and they've got two juniors in Stefan Welsh and Michael Washington. Washington I think right now just based on this point and time in the season has got to be who is considered for player of the year in the league. He's got to be one of those guys who have to at least be mentioned based on what he's done. He's one of the best if not the best offensive rebounders in our league. He can score in a variety of different ways. Fortson has come in as a freshman point guard and done a lot of things for their team as Nick (Calathes) did for us a year ago. Then you've got (Michael) Sanchez who as a freshman is a big, strong physical kid and then you got Rotnei Clarke who reminds me a lot of (Ted) Dupay in the way he shoots the ball. He's got great range and great confidence and I think the kid's a real winner.

Donovan was asked about John Pelphrey returning to the O'Dome for the first time as an opposing coach.

BD: John was an extremely valuable piece to helping us build. I enjoyed coaching him for three years at Kentucky. He's a great guy and a good friend and I appreciate the sacrifices that he made. I think that this place does mean a lot to him personally. I'm sure there would be some really good feelings about coming back because of what he had a chance to be a part of.

According to the rankings of Kenpom.com the power in the SEC resides in the Eastern Division. Kentucky (No. 23) is the highest rated team in the league followed by Tennessee (No. 33), Florida (No. 41), Vanderbilt (No. 53) and South Carolina (No. 61). That places the top five teams in the SEC in one division. Mississippi State (No. 66) is the top team in the Western Division followed by LSU (No. 75), Auburn (No. 81), Ole Miss (No. 88) and Arkansas (No. 89). Those rankings leave two SEC teams outside the top 100 in Alabama (No. 112) and Georgia (No. 153).


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