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|No. 8 FLORIDA GATORS||ULM WARHAWKS|
|Head Coach: Billy Donovan||Head Coach: Keith Richard|
|Record: 1-1||Record: 2-0|
|Conference: Southeastern||Conference: Sun Belt|
Odds: Florida -21 | O/U 131
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MUST-READ PRIMER: Can the Gators keep it going with a rebuilt starting five?
HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS
» Florida and Louisiana-Monroe are squaring off for the first time ever, though the Gators hold a 10-6 advantage all-time against current Sun Belt teams (7-1 under Donovan, 5-1 in the O’Dome).
» Technically, Friday’s showdown is being dubbed an preliminary game for the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis, a tournament which the Gators will participate in next week.
» UF is looking for its 17th consecutive season with 20+ victories. Florida’s 16-straight campaigns with that many wins is the longest streak in the SEC and fifth-longest nationally. Only eight coaches have ever won 20+ games in 14+ consecutive seasons.
» Florida learned to win close games last season, going 14-2 in contests decided by single digits, but the Gators are 0-1 in such affairs this season.
» On Monday, Miami snapped Florida’s program-record 33-game home winning streak, which dated back to Nov. 11, 2012, and was the second-longest in the nation. The Canes also broke the Gators’ school-record 25-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents, which dated back to Dec. 22, 2010.
» Florida is still on program-record 18-game winning streaks against SEC opponents overall (since Jan. 8, 2014) and at home (since Jan. 9, 2014). UF has also won a school-record nine-in-a-row over SEC opponents on the road (since Jan. 11, 2014).
» The Gators have opened the 2014-15 season with a 1-1 record, the fourth time in the last five seasons Florida has been .500 through two games.
INJURIES AND ABSENCES
» Active (1): Sophomore forward/center Chris Walker
» Out (1): Redshirt junior guard Eli Carter (foot), redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith (hand)
» Extended (3): Redshirt junior forward Alex Murphy (transfer – fall semester), sophomore center John Egbunu (transfer – season), freshman guard Brandone Francis (academics – season)
Freshman F Devin Robinson and redshirt senior walk-on F Jacob Kurtz will start in Friday’s game.
According to UF, Carter injured his foot in Thursday’s practice. X-rays were negative but the foot became swollen and he is currently in a boot. An MRI will be performed on Saturday to help determine the extent of the injury.
TURNING ‘I’ AND ‘ME’ INTO ‘WE’
“What’s going on is, for some of our guys, they are getting way too wrapped up into this idea and this notion – ‘I let the team down, I missed a shot, I missed a block out, I missed a rebound’ – and there is not a high enough level of resiliency to battle through when it’s not going well for them,” explained Donovan on Thursday.
“That is the biggest challenge for our group moving forward. As much as I hate to say this, that’s a group that sometimes it’s an ‘I’ group, it’s a ‘me’ group. Sometimes people think, ‘I, me, selfish, right to points, I want to score, I want to score.’ It’s not that. [Rather, it is asking], ‘Can you have the ability when something is not going well to get out of yourself and not focus on yourself and focus on really doing your job and understanding there is a group of guys depending on you to do that, that you have to have some resiliency, you have to have some perseverance and some fight, to be able to get through difficult stretches?”
Donovan wants the Gators to focus on staying “connected through the ups and downs and the adversities and the challenges of competition.” Rather than get down when things do not go its way, Florida needs to rally together and figure out how to make a few stops or put the ball in the basket a couple of times in order to get back in the swing of things.
“We’re a team that kind of broke apart a little bit [in the Miami game], not because of jealousy or bad chemistry or [we] don’t like each other, [but the players] are focused on themselves. That’s a dangerous recipe. If we would’ve played the first half and second half as kind of mirrored halves together and come up short, we would probably be able to look and evaluate of where we’ve got to get basketball-wise,” Donovan added.
“Right now for me, this is not even a basketball issue. It has nothing to do with basketball. This is much, much more of a mental issue in terms of them handling their own personal expectations. … That’s the area we have to get better at is the response through negativity. Right now, we don’t have a great response to that.”
A microcosm of what Donovan is describing is sophomore point guard Kasey Hill, who has done a lot of things right in his first two games. Hill shut down William & Mary’s best player, Marcus Thornton, for most of the game. He also has a 3.67 assist-to-turnover ratio and is doing that in 30.5 minutes per game.
However, Hill is also struggling mightily with his shot. He is 1-for-12 on the season and missed a point-blank layup in Monday’s game that may have been a difference-maker for Florida. When Hill gets into his own head, Donovan says, things fall apart for the player.
“That is a byproduct of a ‘me’ focused guy, and it’s this expectation that’s pressure they place on themselves they gotta put the ball in the basket. They are losing sight and perspective that 95 percent of the game – I say this all the time – is playing without the ball in your hands. You cannot have a negative play impact your focus, your disposition, your attitude out there on the court. And I think that’s happening to Kasey, he’s focusing on the fact that, ‘I just missed two lay ups, I missed this,’ and now he’s just focused on that and inevitably what happens is that it becomes worse,” Donovan said.
“I would rather have had him at the end of the game [focus on] really guarding [Angel] Rodriguez. … I really have praised Kasey’s defense for the last couple of games. He did an unbelievable job on Thornton against William & Mary. … He just did an incredible job. Kasey did an unbelievable job on Rodriguez until he seven-minute mark when all of a sudden he had a couple of things not go his way and he lost his focus.”
Keeping a strong mindset and team-centric focus will be key for the Gators as they move on this season. Florida will get its next chance against a Louisiana-Monroe team that is 20th nationally in scoring (90.0 per game) and 43rd in field goal percentage (.507) through two contests.