Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Monday, one day before the team hit the road for its second game of the 2013-14 season against the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison, WI, on Tuesday at 9 p.m.
Senior forward Will Yeguete (knee) and junior transfer guard Eli Carter (leg) remain hobbled by injuries but will still be suiting up for the Gators on Tuesday. While Yeguete looked shaky but capable in Florida’s season opener, Carter was barely able to get anything going until hitting a three-pointer late in the game.
“Will, in my opinion, is progressing at a better rate than Eli is,” Donovan explained. “Eli is the one guy that we probably have gotten to a bit of a standstill with him physically. Where he’s probably made some good growth and then he’s kind of leveled off right now. The biggest problem for him, which I’m noticing is a major problem, and it kind of puts us in harm’s way from a defensive standpoint, is he’s having a very, very difficult time starting and stopping. When he’s stopped and he’s got to explode, it take shim a while to get going. We’re hopeful that he can somehow continue to work through this and he can make some good, positive strides and get better.
“Will’s situation is much, much more strength issue. His whole strength is not back yet. … He seemed off-balance to me a lot [in the opener]. … He’s got to get his strength back. Those two guys, their injuries are healed. They’re just lacking strength right now. That’s the biggest issue with those two guys.”
Those two are not the only limited players, however, as sophomore G Michael Frazier II is still working his way back after a bout of mononucleosis. Frazier admitted Monday that he is not yet 100 percent, and Donovan explained that the player has been limited in practice but will likely start against Wisconsin.
“There is a little bit of a concern about him relapsing, and they’re being careful,” he said. “He’s fully cleared to play and healthy right now, but I think what they worry about is … too much could put him into a situation where we set him back.”
ANOTHER SUSPENSION UPDATE
Though injuries will not keep anyone out of action, three other Gators – senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, redshirt junior center Damontre Harris and redshirt sophomore G/F Dorian Finney-Smith – will miss the game due to suspension. Donovan did not provide much of an update on the three.
“Those guys are not playing [Tuesday] and they still got stuff that they’ve got to do. We’ll address those guys as each game comes forward,” he said. “After this game, I could probably see where there are things those guys are needing to get done. I don’t want to come out here and project the future, say something that I got to take back.
“I think what I’ve always tried to do is just be honest with the next thing that is in front of us. All I can tell you is right now, going into this game, those three guys are not playing and when they will be back is still up in the air.”
Chances are that both Harris and Finney-Smith will be reinstated before Florida’s next game. It is expected that Wilbekin’s suspension will last a maximum of six games, meaning he is still likely 1-2 weeks away from seeing action in a game.
Frazier said the three suspended players are still practicing but serving as the scout team in order to help UF prepare for upcoming opponents. Senior F Casey Prather called that unit “maybe the best scout team in the country” on Tuesday.
TALL TASK AHEAD
The Badgers opened the season on Friday, draining 11-of-23 triples on the way to routing St. Johns. Considering Donovan has been criticizing his team’s three-point defense all fall (and following the Gators’ opener, too), it will certainly be an area of focus for UF heading into the game.
“This is what they are. They’re a really good hard-driving team and they shoot threes. You got to certainly have a great level of awareness. You got to be in the right position and you got to know what they’re doing with their movement. They’re very efficient and very effective,” Donovan said of Wisconsin.
Asked if Florida was capable of handling an opponent of this caliber so early into the season, Donovan shied away from putting any pressure on his team mostly due to the fact that it will not look remotely the same in a month, he hopes.
“I think this time of year, I don’t really go through really whether or not we’re ready or not ready. I look at it a lot more of this is the game that’s in front of us right now,” he said. “Going through a game like this, we’re going to find out where we’re at, where we need to get better and what do we take out of the game. Certainly both teams are going in to win. But at the end of the day, this is not going to be our team hopefully a month from now. So, with the hand that we’re dealt, I’m anxious to see how we respond coming off the North Florida game.”
Donovan was not pleased with the Gators’ performance in that contest and cautioned that a similar effort would spell doom for his squad while in Madison on Tuesday.
“If we play that way like we did on Friday, we have no shot to win the game. We gave up way too many three-point shots. We gave up 45-47 percent from the field. We dealt with an enormous amount of foul trouble in the first half,” he said. “We’re going to have to perform a lot better than we did, and I think it starts really with our three older guys – Patric [Young], Casey and Will. … As it relates to our team and the anchor of our team, it’s got to be our three seniors.”
He added: “Those guys are good enough. Those guy shave played a lot of games, played a lot of minutes. Those guys are good enough.”
Young only shot the ball twice on Friday, missing both shots, and only grabbed two rebounds in a game where he should have been dominant in the post. Prather, of course, had a career game with 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting with eight boards, and Yeguete was 0-for-4 but contributed in other ways with five rebounds, three assists and four steals.
Though Donovan does not want his players worrying about foul trouble (see “Notes and Quotes”), he does expect his bench players to be smarter on the court and contribute if the starters get into a pickle during the game.
“Those guys got to understand if that happens [Tuesday] night, those guys have go to perform and hold down a little bit better while they are in there,” he said.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan said he is confident that Florida can be a good three-point shooting team this season but noted it will undoubtedly be tough to match-up with some of the Gators’ recent deep shooting success. “I think that we can be a good three-point shooting team. I don’t think that we maybe will have the explosiveness we’ve had the last couple of years. … We don’t have that kind of explosiveness. Frazier I’d put in that category. He really shoots the ball like that. … I do think that we’re a team that’s maybe a little bit longer that has maybe a better opportunity than maybe a year ago to get to the free throw line a little bit more.”
» Donovan on trying not to foul due to depth issues: “You can go into any game trying to stay out of foul trouble. If you do that, what happens is you become very week defensively, become weak at the basket and inevitably you give up way too high of a percentage.”
» Frazier on Donovan’s message to the team over the weekend: “He’s really been harping on us getting better as a team defensively. This team that we’re playing is a really good team. They move the ball well. They spread the floor with shooters. They know what they’re doing on offense. If we don’t come ready to play, focused on defense, they’re going to carve us up.”
» Prather on whether Donovan has changed at all recently: “I feel like he’s still the same, still as intense as he ever was, still a great guy. I feel like he still puts our best interests before anything else.”