Gators Strive for 25

Only five teams in Florida basketball history have won 25 or more games in a single season. Friday night, this year's group of Gators tries to become the sixth Florida squad to reach that milestone when they host the Miami Hurricanes in the second round of the NIT. Florida brings a 24-10 record into the contest while Miami checks in at 19-12.

The Hurricanes are coming off a 78-66 win at Providence Wednesday night while the Gators routed Jacksonville 84-62.

Miami is led by senior guard Jack McClinton who averages 19.5 points a game. McClinton is one of the best three-point shooters in college basketball (.458) and reminds Florida Coach Billy Donovan of Kentucky sharpshooter Jodie Meeks. Florida should have a great scouting report on McClinton since Gator Assistant Coach Rob Lanier recruited him and coached him for a year at Siena College.

But Miami surrounds McClinton with a lot more talent than Kentucky has supporting Meeks. The ‘Canes get solid play in the front court from Dwayne Collins (10.4/7.3) and Brian Asbury (8.1/5.1). Lance Hurdle (7.4) and James Dews (8.2) give them outside shooters, while Cyrus McGowan (4.7/4.5) and Jimmy Graham (3.9/5.9) get physical in the paint.

Miami went 7-9 in the ACC this season with key wins over NCAA teams FSU, Wake Forest and Boston College. However the ‘Canes were kept out of the Big Dance due to late season losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. The ‘Canes beat Kentucky 73-67 back in December.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan gave his assessment of the Hurricanes.

"Well, obviously McClinton is a great player," Donovan said. "I would say McClinton is probably like in our league a Jodie Meeks. (He's) a guy that's capable of going for 35 or 40 and he's done it at some great places. He's a great competitor and a great shooter."

But Donovan knows that Miami has plenty of other weapons.

"They have a terrific shooting team with Dews and Hurdle. I think they also have gotten a very strong, physical front court (with) Graham and Collins. They're a good team that start off ranked pretty high. They played in a very tough conference, but they have a lot of different pieces to their team and they have no question a go to guy who can step up and take over games and make big shots and make big plays for them."

Other than the final three minutes in Lexington, Florida did a very good job defensively against Meeks. Donovan was asked the defensive plan will be similar when they face McClinton.

"A little bit, but I think with Kentucky it was pretty evident and clear when they came down on their possessions they were going to try to get the ball to Meeks and (Patrick) Patterson. That's where the ball was going to go and they were going to give a couple of looks to those guys before shots went up. This is a little bit different. With the different guys they have on the perimeter they're all capable three point shooters. When you've got guys like that (to defend) you can give a lot of attention to McClinton but you also could end up giving up a lot of threes if you don't respect the fact that they are a good three-point shooting team."

Donovan said the Gators are likely to stick with the starting lineup that debuted Wednesday with Erving Walker on the floor and Chandler Parsons coming off the bench. The move worked for both players. Walker scoring 11 points and dishing out four assists and Parsons have his second career double-double with 17 points and a career best 14 rebounds. Yet he points out this is a tougher team to do that against than JU was.

"We were able to match up a little better with Jacksonville because I wouldn't say they were a big strong team. (We'll) probably start the same way against Miami, but now we're talking about an ACC team that has bigger, stronger, more athletic guards. Now we're starting with two small guards and we're dealing with a team that can really offensive rebound. So on one hand it may have helped help, but there could be some things going into this game to start the game where we're going to have a different set of challenges the first five minutes of the game."

The early part of the game has been important to this team all year long. The Gators are 23-3 when leading at the half, but 1-7 when they don't take an advantage into the locker room. The only time Florida rallied from behind at halftime this year was against North Carolina State when a 33-23 deficit became a 68-66 win.

The winner of this game will play Penn State or George Mason in the third round for a spot in the semi-finals at Madison Square Garden. Florida would host either team, while Miami would host George Mason but travel to take on Penn State.

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Nick Calathes continues his assault on the Gator record book. His 1,139 points is the most by any Gator after his sophomore season, and with five assists he'll break his own single season school record (221).

The Gators and Hurricanes play a home-and-home series in 2004 and 2005 with the home team losing each time.


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