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Gators Head to Bay Area Seeking Right Balance of Chemistry

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By CHRIS HARRY 

Gatorzone Contributing Writer 

 

TAMPA, Fla. -- Moments after practice wrapped up Saturday, Billy Donovan shouted in the direction of Erving Walker as the senior point guard headed toward the gym door. 

 

“Erv!” Donovan said. “Fifty-three percent!” 

 

Walker looked back as if he was about to respond. 

 

“OK,” Donovan said. “Make that 53.8 percent.” 

 

That would be Walker’s free-throw percentage through the first three games of the 2011-12 season, albeit on just 13 attempts, following Thursday’s 91-55 home victory against North Florida. It’s a number that warrants mention, considering Walker combined to hit 79 percent from the line through his first three seasons and his struggles from the stripe are a microcosm of the team’s collective 56.9 percent at the line. 

 

“We shoot ‘em [at practice], but not as much as we should,” freshman guard Bradley Beal said. “Coach Donovan says we’re gonna shoot a lot more.” 

 

They will. And they’ll improve. It’s early. There’s no real reason for alarm. 

 

In the big picture, though, consider free-throw shooting just another element Donovan and his coaching staff will make a priority as this unique Gators team grows, develops and crafts its identity in the young phase of the season.

 

The next phase comes Monday night in Tampa, where seventh-ranked Florida (2-1) will face Wright State (2-1) at the St. Pete Times Forum, the first of four so-called “home” games that will be played away from the O’Connell Center over the next month. UF was last in Tampa last March when it defeated UCLA in second-round NCAA Tournament play to advance to the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in school history. The Gators upcoming barnstorm tour of home-away-from-home games also will take them to Orlando (Nov. 28 vs. Stetson), Jacksonville (Dec. 9 vs. Rider) and Sunrise (Dec. 17 vs. Texas A&M). 

 

“These games keep us connected to our fans,” Donovan said. 

 

More importantly, they present opportunities to fine-tune the type of team the Gators want to be this season. But what is that? 

 

Because they’re more undersized than in the past, more effort is going to be needed on the glass. They’re also seeking the right balance and chemistry between the array of outside shooters and the low-post skills of power forward Patric Young. 

 

The sum of those parts did not mesh particularly well in Tuesday’s 81-74 loss at third-ranked Ohio State. The Gators got out to a hot start behind their 3-point shooting, but the offense bogged down in the half court. Spacing wasn’t very good, penetrations and kicks were lacking, and there was nowhere near enough isolation situations for Young to get the ball in the post. 

 

“We want ball movement and player movement,” Donovan said. “We want the extra pass and a high number of assists. We want these guys to understand good shots and bad shots.” 

 

The Gators looked better against North Florida (48-percent shooting from the floor; five players in double figures; 18 assists on 32 field goals), but the Ospreys aren’t exactly the Buckeyes. The same can be said for a handful of foes coming up on a pre-conference slate schedule, but along the way Florida will face the likes of Syracuse, Arizona, Rutgers and A&M. 

 

Each time out is an opportunity to forge cohesion and Donovan will be looking for signs of progress Monday night against the Raiders. 

 

Better free-throw shooting, too. 

 

“That irritates me,” Donovan said. 

 

====================================================== 

 

 

GATORS GAMEBOX

Wright State vs. No. 7 Florida

Tip-off: 7 p.m. (St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa)

Records: Wright State 2-1; Florida 2-1

TV: SUN Sports (Larry Vettel, Mark Wise)

Radio: Gator Radio Network (click here for affiliates) Sirius 220/XM 199

Game notes:  Florida notes 

Need to know: The game marks not only the first meeting for the Gators against Wright State, a public university located in Dayton, Ohio, but also the first regular-season game for UF against a team from the Horizon League. Florida is is 3-1 vs. Horizon teams in NCAA Tournament play, with a 2-1 record against Butler and 1-0 mark against Wisconsin-Milwaukee. ... UF is 6-3 all-time playing in the St. Pete Times Forum, including wins over UC-Santa Barbara and UCLA in the first two rounds of the 2011 NCAA Tournament last March. ... The Raiders are coached by Billy Donlon, whose father, Bill Donlon, was the assistant coach at Providence who recruited Billy Donovan to the Friars in 1984 (Note: that’s a lot of Bills). ... All five Florida starters are averaging in double-figures, led by junior guard Kenny Boynton (18 ppg, 3.3 apg), freshman G Bradley Beal (14.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and sophomore PF Patric Young (11 ppg, 9 rpg). UF is averaging 11.6 3-pointers per game. ... Backup F Will Yeguete, UF’s No. 2 rebounder (5.5 pg), has been cleared to play after missing the UNF game with concussion-like symptoms. ... Wright State lost all five starters off a team that went 19-14 last season and is led by freshman G Reggie Arceneaux (11.7 ppg) and sophomore F Cole Darling (9 ppg, 9 rpg). ... Like the Gators, the Raiders already have lost to No. 3 Ohio State, falling 73-42 in their season opener. Wright State’s two wins came against Kenyon and Jackson State. 

 

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