Florida vs. Georgia preview: Prather out, Walker waiting, Gators going streaking

Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 11,548]
Time: 7:00 p.m. EST

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(7) FLORIDA GATORS GEORGIA BULLDOGS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Mark Fox
Record: 13-2 (2-0 SEC) Record: 8-6 (2-0 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -14.5 | O/U [OFF]

HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS

» Florida lead the all-time series against Georgia 108-99 (25-10 under Donovan). The Gators are 14-3 against the Bulldogs at home under Donovan with 11-straight victories against their rivals in the O’Dome.
» Due to the SEC’s rotational schedule, UF and UGA will not meet twice this season. According to the school, it will be the first time that has happened since the 1943-44 campaign, when Florida did not field a basketball team.
» The Gators are attempting to break the program record for longest home winning streak. UF has won 24-straight games in the O’Dome dating back to last season when it went undefeated in its home gym. The streak is the third-longest nationally behind Stephen F. Austin and Duke (26).
» Florida is on a seven-game winning streak and has won 12 of its last 13 games.
» The Gators are 65-9 since the beginning of the 2011-12 season when holding an opponent under 71 points in a game.
» Florida is 6-2 this season in single-digit decisions after going 0-6 in such contests during the 2012-13 campaign. UF is also 1-0 in overtime games.
» 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.
» The Gators will likely be using their eighth different starting lineup in 16 games.

NOT BACK YET

Senior forward Casey Prather (knee) will miss his second-straight contest, Donovan announced on Monday. Prather continues to deal with what is being termed a bone bruise and will have missed three practices and two games by the time the final buzzer sounds on Tuesday. “He still has issues. He’s getting better. He’s progressing. When he’ll be available to play, I don’t know, but he’s out,” said Donovan.

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin (ankle) and senior center Patric Young (knee) continue to deal with their own ailments but will both play Tuesday as expected. Both have been full participants in practice coming out of Florida’s 84-82 overtime win at Arkansas on Saturday.

“[Wilbekin] is still sore. He’s still dealing with some issues,” he said. “Those guys are full-go. [Monday] in practice they [were] out there. I’m sure Scottie is dealing with some soreness and stiffness in his ankle. He should be able to play [Tuesday].”


WAITING GAME CONTINUES

Asked to once again update the status of freshman forward Chris Walker, who joined the team on Dec. 14, 2013 but has yet to be cleared by the NCAA due to an outstanding eligibility issue, Donovan conveyed an extreme level of frustration for the first time.

“That’s a loaded question for me right now,” he began. “I have hope and optimism that a kid [who] has been totally forthright and honest and has given everything he could possibly could…the NCAA will do the right thing. … I think it’s probably one of those situations where you’ve got a very high-profile player that’s having to sit out and miss games. I’m not at liberty to talk about all the things that are going on with him, for one because I don’t know all those things, and two, it’s more of a school issue. It doesn’t really concern us as far as our coaching staff or our team. It’s stuff that our institution is handling, and you just have hope and optimism that the NCAA is going to sit there and say, ‘You know what, this kid sat out some games. He’s been forthright, he’s been truthful and we’re going to get to a speedy decision on this thing.’”

Donovan continued:

“Sometimes a kid that is already in college where the administration sits down and goes through all this and goes through compliance issues … and they’re being educated on what the rules are, I can see less tolerance … because of that. Then you’ve got situations where you’ve got a high school kid who’s not privy to those rules. Nobody’s sat down with him. There’s different things that happen and go on inside of those situations. …

“So I’m just hopeful and optimistic in the fact that they asked him to basically answer all their questions in an open and honest way, and I think he’s done that to the very, very best of his ability. … I think people look at different cases, situations in the NCAA, and a lot of times there’s different rulings on situations where, ‘How come this guy got penalized more than this guy got penalized? This guy got nothing; this guy got this.’ I think a lot of times, those are the things where it’s not just one standard. And the one theme has been, in my opinion, be truthful, be honest. And I think I can say at least from our school’s perspective, they feel like Chris has done that and that’s all we’re asking for.”

EXECUTION MORE IMPORTANT THAN RESULTS

The Gators are 6-2 in games decided by single digits, a stark contrast to the 0-6 record the team posted in such games during the 2012-13 season. While the results are impressive, Donovan is more concerned with the execution of his players down the stretch. He wants to make sure Florida is “doing the right thing inside those situations.”

“The biggest thing I try to look in those situations is what we’re doing from an execution standpoint and understanding from an execution standpoint different things are going to happen,” Donovan explained. “I would have been disappointed in the game if Scottie on that last play, because we had created a driving play for him, if he’d stopped and bombed a three – that wouldn’t have been a really good decision. But he did what he was supposed to do. …

“I think our guys have been in those situations. I think our guys have a better understanding of what we’re trying to do and when you are in those situations. … What I try to do is look at the game, what are we trying to do, did we execute, did we do our job, shots go up, are we blocking out, are we chasing balls, what are we doing?”

NOTES & QUOTES

» On freshman PG Kasey Hill and how he can improve: “He’s still has got to get better defensively. That’s got to be an area of focus for him. I think he’s trying. I think he has made some strides in a positive direction, but he has to continually get better there. He has a tendency that I think a lot of times when you’re young and not playing a level of talent that he’s playing against on a regular basis, you fall asleep and you’re late, you don’t guard an action the correct way, you get exposed. I think he is trying. I think he has made some strides in a positive direction. He has got to continue to get better there.”

» On redshirt junior walk-on F Jacob Kurtz and his ability to contribute: “Jake has done a great job, and I have a lot of confidence in him. The one thing about him that you don’t get a chance to see as much is that he has a really high basketball IQ. A lot of times, when we’re preparing for the next opponent, I can put him on the scout team and have him play against our guys and he can retain two things. He can understand what the opposing team is doing, and he knows what we’re doing.”

» On Florida playing more zone defense as of late: “I’m OK with zone. We have played zone in different periods of time. Sometimes you are forced to do that with depth or foul trouble or sometimes based on the scouting and preparation you feel like you can do that [and] we feel like we have some length. I’ve never really been opposed to zone. I would just say that I thought last year, looking at our man-to-man defense, I think we ranked third in the country nationally; the best defensive team statistically that I have had since I’ve been here. So, you generally are going to go with a defense that is your best. That was really our best. I think because of our length, athleticism, size and some different things, we can do some things and play some zone and still give a good effort.”

» On the long home winning streak: “I never really looked at it that way – a streak. Every game is different and new. It’s got its own unique set of challenges in every game. I never really looked at it that way. It’s just another game we’re playing at home. Everything that has happened in the past has nothing to do with [Tuesday] night. [Tuesday] night is its own separate, competitive game. We’ll need to come here tomorrow night and play well against a Georgia team that’s playing really well.”

» On the Bulldogs playing exceptionally well as of late: “I think Mark has done a great job of utilizing his personnel. … There’s more options this year for their team in terms of what they had last year. … Those guys are a year older and stepping into a bigger role for themselves. They’ve performed very well in those.”

OnlyGators.com’s Mike Brandes contributed to this post.

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