JU Won't be a Walkover

Most fans probably felt pretty good when they saw that Florida would be hosting the Jacksonville University Dolphins in the first round of the NIT. After all the Dolphins have lost seven straight games to Billy Donovan coached Gator squads with most games not being competitive. However there a very good chance that Wednesday night's game will be tougher than usual between the two schools.

JU won the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season championship and brings an 18-13 record into the O'Connell Center. They played a tough non-conference schedule losing to FSU by two, Georgia Tech by three, Baylor and American by eight and Georgetown by nine. This is clearly their best team in a long time as evidenced by the fact that their last post-season berth was in the 1987 NIT.

Dolphins Coach Cliff Warren is the Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year and sophomore forward Ayron Hardy is the league's defensive player of the year. Junior guard Ben Smith is a first team all conference selection.

Smith leads the team, averaging 17.2 points and four assists a game and is third on the squad with 5.4 rebounds. Those numbers compare favorably with the Gators' Nick Calathes (17.2, 6.4, and 5.4). The Dolphins don't start anyone over 6-7, but two guys at that height Marcus Allen (10.0/6.8) and Lehmon Colbert (11.8/6.2) do a good job both scoring and rebounding. Hardy (10.2) gives them a fourth scorer in double figures.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan offered up his assessment of the Dolphins.

"We had a chance to see a lot of them last year. They have a lot of returning players," Donovan said. "Last year they were sophomores and juniors, now they're juniors and seniors. I think Cliff has done a terrific job with them. They are a terrific rebounding team (plus 5.6/game). Obviously Smith in the back court with Allen up front and Colbert they have some really good pieces."

Donovan said the Dolphins competed very well against that tough early season schedule.

"If you look early on at some of the games they played they're right there with every one of those teams. This is a very good team. They played great in their league (15-5). I think when you're in a "one bid" league and you play in a conference tournament anything can happen in a one game situation."

Donovan said he knows what to expect from this JU team.

"I'd say they're a transition team; they're a fast break team. They like to go up and down, change defenses. We'll see some pressure, full court, three quarter court and in the half court, they'll switch and play match up zone, they'll do a lot of different things defensively."

One thing the Gators really need is a return to form from Nick Calathes. In his last four games Calathes has averaged just 8.5 points after scoring 18.4 up to that point. His shooting has similarly dropped off. In those four games Calathes is shooting 41 percent from the field, 17 percent from three point range and 50 percent at the free throw line. Before this slump the numbers were 50 percent, 42 percent and 71 percent respectively. Calathes insists he's not worn down from the long season and his illness of three weeks ago, but he also indicated he wouldn't admit it if he was.

Billy Donovan isn't so sure he agrees with his star guard, but says it's more likely to be a combination of factors.

"Like anything else during the course of the season fatigue could be a factor. He did have some illness several weeks ago where he had a real bad stretch with a cold. The one thing I've said about Nick that I've always admired about him is when he steps across the line and plays he plays. There are not a whole lot of excuses with him. But I also think teams are being aggressive with him and physical with him and trying to take him out. I think his maturation and growth as a player of understanding how to function in a game is that he can make the game easier for other people (when teams load up on him). He has not shot the ball and I think some of it has been shot selection and some of it's been fatigue because he's had so much on his shoulders as a player. I think there are probably a lot of factors that contribute to it. To say that there's one reason, I don't know if there would be (just) one.

*************************************************************

Florida beat Jacksonville 88-72 last season in the O'Dome. Calathes scored 24 points, Chandler Parsons had 17 and Marreese Speights added 16 in the win. For JU Smith (16), Allen (15) and Colbert (13) led the way.

Donovan is tied with Tubby Smith for the fifth most wins (308) in SEC history.

The Gators are 26-4 all-time against JU and have won 18 of 19. The Dolphins' only win since 1980 came in December of 1994 68-67.


Fightin Gators Top Stories