Gators Face Critical Four-Game Stretch

The first 16 games of the season has been two totally different stretches for the Gator basketball team. Florida won its first eight games including an upset for then No. 2 Michigan State and climbed to No. 10 in the Associated Press Poll. However in the last eight games the Gators has won just three times and two of those were gimmes (American, Presbyterian).

Now the Gators get set to face the most important four games of this season. Florida needs to rebound from a 0-2 start in the SEC and these games would all be categorized as winnable. The stretch begins Saturday in the O'Dome against LSU followed by a trip to Arkansas and home contests against South Carolina and Georgia. If the Gators are going to have a realistic chance to post a winning record in the SEC they have to win at least three and ideally all four games.

It starts with LSU, which like the Gators has lost its first two conference games. Also like Florida, the Tigers have struggled of late losing five of six after an 8-2 start. The Tigers are 9-7 overall in their second season under the direction of coach Trent Johnson. LSU is similar to Florida in that they do not play many guys. The Tigers rely heavily on three guys led by senior forward Tasmin Mitchell (16.9/9.4), junior guard Bo Spencer (15.7/2.7) and sophomore forward Storm Warren (13.8/8.9). That trio combined for almost 70 percent of the team's scoring and 60 percent of its rebounds.

The teams have not played a single common opponent in non conference play, but eventually they will. LSU was clobbered by Xavier 89-65 and the Gators will host the Musketeers next month.

Florida coach Billy Donovan talked about the LSU matchup.

On what stands out about LSU:

"I think clearly they are going to go to three players, Storm Warren up front, Tasmin Mitchell who I have tremendous respect for and think he's a terrific player and of course Spencer who was really their point guard last year and made their team go. They want those guys taking most of the shots. I definitely think they're a physical team in the front court so defending in and around the basket is going to be important and rebounds will be important. I also think the three point line will be important because of how well Spencer can shoot it."

On the teams having some similarities:

"There are similarities in terms of depth. I would agree with that, but styles are a little bit different. They're a team that would prefer to make the game totally halfcourt. I think we're trying to score a bit more in transition and try to score off our defense a little bit more."

What were defensive problems in the last game?

"I actually thought we played some pretty good defense against Kentucky. I thought it was one of our better efforts of the year. Kentucky in the first half only scored four baskets on our half court defense so I thought we did a pretty good job. I think one of the things that happened was some ill advised shots and turnovers led Kentucky into their fast break. I thought their fast break opportunities and second shots let them shoot a pretty high percentage."

Concerned about taking too many bad shots?

"As a coach you're trying to correct everything. We're not going to go through a game and never take a bad shot. I do think at different points in time we've taken shots that are a little bit rushed or too quick on the shot clock when we could have been a little bit more patient and gotten something a little better."

Florida and LSU get at it Saturday night at 8:00 in the O'Dome. The Gators will be seeking to end a three-game losing streak to LSU. Billy Donovan is 9-8 against the Tigers in his years at Florida with a 4-3 record at home, 3-4 in Baton Rouge and 2-1 in the SEC Tournament.

Florida is averaging 82 points in SEC games with Erving Walker (21) and Kenny Boynton (20) combining for exactly half that total. What's hurt the Gators in the two SEC games is being minus-7 on the boards and in turnover differential. That's 14 extra possessions for Vandy and Kentucky.

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