|(12) FLORIDA GATORS||RICHMOND SPIDERS|
|Head Coach: Billy Donovan||Head Coach: Chris Mooney|
|Record: 10-2||Record: 10-4|
|Conference: Southeastern||Conference: Atlantic 10|
Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 11,548]
Time: 3:00 p.m. EST
TV: Comcast Sports Southeast (Matt Stewart, Daymeon Fishback) [Channel Finder]
SiriusXM: 110/199 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: ESPN3.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
Odds: Florida -14
HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS
» Florida is 1-2 all-time against Richmond (0-1 under Donovan). The Spiders last defeated the Gators in a neutral site contest in 2009.
» UF has won 23-straight non-conference games in the O’Dome and 22 consecutive home games overall, the second-longest streak in school history.
» The Gators are 63-9 since the beginning of the 2011-12 season when holding opponent under 71 points in a game.
» Florida is 4-2 this season in single-digit decisions after going 0-6 in such contests during the 2012-13 campaign.
» The Gators defeated top-15 teams in consecutive games for the fourth time in program history and first time ever in non-conference regular season play.
» Florida is 2-2 against ranked opponents this season with both losses coming in true road games and the victories occurring in a home contest and neutral-site game.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF TIME OFF
The Gators will only have played four games in 32 days by the time they take the court on Saturday afternoon against the Spiders, and Donovan is pleased at how much the team has improved in that time. UF has won four-straight contests, including consecutive games against top 25-ranked opponents, and outscored its last two competitors by a combined total of 142-83.
He is especially impressed at what the Gators have been able to accomplish over the last two-plus weeks while school has been out following the conclusion of the fall semester.
“They’ve done a good job. We’ve had a good week here of practice. We’ve been able to do a lot of different things. Any time you don’t have school going on and they’re basically totally focused on the basketball piece of it, you have a chance I think to really grow and develop,” he explained.
“This last month for us has been a time where we have a week in between games where we’ve been able to improve and get better. … I’d say the last two weeks, as we’ve gotten a little bit more healthy, we’ve been able to work on different things in practice. And I think it’s worked well for us.”
One area in which Donovan has noticed marked improvement is on the defensive end. UF did allow Memphis to score 75 points on Dec. 17, but Florida has been especially stout over the last two contests and hopes to keep that defensive momentum going.
“We’ve gotten better there. We’ve become more consistent there. … I think we’ll find out a lot more [Saturday] with this kind of team of how much growth and strides we’ve made in that area,” said Donovan. “Our guys’ attitudes have been good. They’ve worked hard in that area. The areas we’ve tried to improve on, they’ve put a focus on getting better. … I think we’re a different team today than we were in November and hopefully we’ll be a different team in February than we are here in early January.”
The Gators have shown strides at the charity stripe in certain games but nevertheless rank in the lower third nationally at the foul line, hitting just 66.6 percent of their attempts. Donovan said Florida has continued to work on its free throw shooting but nothing has changed as far as its week-to-week preparation goes in that area.
A TOUGH TEST
Those unfamiliar with Richmond may think of the program as a pushover, but UF certainly does not see it Saturday opponent that way. The Spiders, which actually hold a 2-1 advantage over the Gators (1-0 against Donovan) took down their hosts 56-53 at the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic in Sunrise, FL back on Dec. 19, 2009. Richmond was unranked in that game, while Florida was No. 13 in the nation.
What makes the Spiders an especially difficult opponent for a one-off non-conference game is their Princeton-style offense, which Donovan discussed at length on Friday.
“They have Princeton concepts. They do that. It’s a different, unique style of play. They space you out. They drive it very, very well. They put you in some binds and some situations because of their personnel,” he said. “Immediately people think they’re going to hold the ball. That’s not what they do. They play fast. … You don’t want to get into a situation and think that this is going to be a tame that’s played in the 50s. … It will be a great test for our team in terms of playing a team like this. But I think there are a lot of things that go into playing a game against a team that plays this style.”
Freshman forward Chris Walker is still biding the time as the NCAA determines when he will officially be cleared to play for the Gators. As OnlyGators.com first reported on Dec. 14, Walker was told upon gaining academic clearance to UF that he would not be able to step onto the court until January. With Florida playing its first game of 2014 on Saturday, many believed Walker would have his final clearance by this point. Unfortunately for the player, that is not the case just yet.
“Because I’m not involved, and we’re not involved at the University of Florida, it really has nothing to do with us. It’s not like I’m being included and incorporated with anything that’s going on. Our administration is involved in that situation,” Donovan began.
“When he got here in the middle of December, I was never given a timetable, never given a date, never given a game when he would be back. So it’s one of those things where are school is working with the NCAA and I’m sure they’ll come to some agreement on what will actually happen. Like I said earlier, I’m sure because of the holidays … it’s hard to get everyone on the same page.
“Now obviously the one who suffers in all of this is Chris. He wants to play. He’s anxious to play. I also don’t think it’s not that bad either. I think Chris has such a long way to go. He’s getting better. But even if he was eligible to play, the next question would be, ‘Is he really ready to play?’ The answer to that is no. He’s not ready to play. In fairness to him, he shouldn’t be ready to play. It’s one of those things where I want him to be ready to play for him. …
“He’s just so far behind. Like I said early, whenever his time comes and he’s able to play, it’s not like I have this expectation that all of a sudden this guy is going to come in here and totally change the complexion of our team. I don’t see that happening. I want him to play because he’s worked really hard to get here.”
OnlyGators.com learned on Saturday that Walker may not be cleared for another 7-10 day, meaning he would miss close to a full month of action since joining the program.