Freshmen must help as Florida visits Tennessee

No. 6/8 FLORIDA GATORS TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Cuonzo Martin
Record: 22-4 (12-2 SEC) Record: 16-10 (8-6 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Location: Thompson-Boling Arena – Knoxville, TN [Capacity: 21,678]
Time: 9:00 p.m. EST

TV: ESPN/ESPNHD (Brad Nessler, Jimmy Dykes, Shannon Spake)
SiriusXM: 91 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter and SportsYapper app

Odds: -8.5 | O/U 124.5

On the road again, the No. 6/8 Florida Gators will play in yet another hostile environment on Tuesday and do so this time with a roster depleted even further than it has been in most contests this season.

Florida takes on the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville, TN – where it is 5-11 all-time under head coach Billy Donovan – with just six healthy members of its normal rotation as junior forward Will Yeguete recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery and freshman guard Michael Frazier II sits out a game after suffering a concussion on Saturday.

Donovan, who has been hesitant to give his other freshman playing time this season as he still views them as developmental players, will be forced to play some of his underclassmen on Tuesday. He said during his weekly press conference on Monday that the Gators will not survive with just six players seeing the court in Knoxville but that he is not exactly sure what he can expect from his freshmen at this point.


“Clearly with our team right now being down to the six players that have really absorbed most of the minutes, we’re going to need – through foul trouble, substitutions, fatigue – we’re going to have to utilize those guys,” he said. “The uncertainty and the unknown is these guys have not really been in situations in the heart and the heat of the game to see how they will respond. But they’re kind of going to get thrusted into that.”

Donovan is unsure of what Florida’s freshmen will bring to the table because he believes that first-year collegiate backcourt players have trouble dealing with size across the front line, the pace of the game, how quickly opponents are able to adjust, and the fact that they cannot relax for a single second on defense.

But he did say that he has seen his freshmen improve during practice this season.

“I’ve seen them get better at those things. I think practice has been very, very effective and helpful for them to improve in some of those areas,” Donovan said. “They’ve gotten better; they’ve improved. The thing I’ve been most impressed with, with our young guys, is just their attitude every day.

“It can be a long year – especially when you’re not getting a chance to play a lot and you’re not in rotations – to keep that enthusiasm and excitement to try to get better. Those guys have done that and I’ve been really, really proud of them for that.”

Donovan knows the Gators “have got to change” the way they play on Tuesday against the Volunteers. That is the nature of the beast when a team has guards filling in for forwards and wings. In order to shake off any jitters, he plans to throw the freshmen he decides to play into the fire during the opening portion of the contest.

“They’ve got to get in early,” he explained. “At some point within that first 10 minutes, we’ve got to sub. We’re not going to be able to go through this game with just six guys. It’s going to be totally impossible, especially if we’ve got some foul trouble. … My feeling is that they would get into the game like a normal rotation kind of guy based on fatigue and foul trouble.”

Whether it is Dillon Graham, Braxton Ogbueze and/or DeVon Walker that see the court on Tuesday is likely of little importance in the grand scheme of things as Florida expects to have Frazier back for Saturday’s game and should see Yeguete on the court again before the regular season is over.

[ OGGOA Related: Frazier, Yeguete on the way back for Florida ]

However, if Donovan can find another reserve he can trust to play some minutes even at this point late in the season, that could benefit the Gators come tournament time.

“There will be a point where we’ll be able to get our team fully back and we’ll have a full complement of players,” he said. “When that will be…I’m not really sure.”

CLIMBING THE CHARTS

Senior G Kenny Boynton is in his fourth year as a starter for the Gators. He is quickly making his way up many of Florida’s all-time lists and is already first in school history in three-point field goals made (319) and attempted (927) and career starts (131). He currently leads the SEC in career points (1,925) and three-pointers among active players and is sixth all-time in SEC history in three-pointers made.

Career scoring
1. Ronnie Williams – 2,090 points
2. Andrew Moten – 1,930 points
3. Kenny Boynton – 1,925 points

Minutes
1. Erving Walker – 4,358
2. Kenny Boynton – 4,342

Field goal attempts
1. Stacey Poole – 1,578
2. Kenny Boynton – 1,576

Field goals made
1. Ronnie Williams – 772
7. Udonis Haslem – 633
8. Kenny Boynton – 631

Games played
1. Walter Hodge – 151
7. Lee Humphrey – 136
8. Kenny Boynton – 134

Assists
1. Erving Walker – 547
9. Taurean Green – 397
10. Kenny Boynton – 372

Boynton is also approaching the top 10 in free throws made (six away from 350).

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