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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Saturday / June 19.
  • After Surviving Tough Early Stretch, Florida Hoping For Another March Run

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    Florida Gators v UCLA BruinsBy JOSH NEWMAN

    Special to ZAGSBLOG

    NEW YORK –¬†Whether it be injuries to Kasey Hill¬†and Scottie Wilbekin, indefinite suspensions to Wilbekin, Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris, or simply a tough early schedule, the University of Florida has had to deal with a lot through 10 games.

    Whatever the issue was, Gators head coach Billy Donovan has had an answer. His team is ranked 16th and is 8-2 following a 77-75 win over Memphis late Tuesday evening at the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

    With the suspensions in the past and everyone now able to play, with the exception of heralded 5-star recruit Chris Walker for the time being, the question now becomes, with a cast of hardened veterans and capable younger guys, how good can the Gators be down the road?

    “I think they’ve been through a lot and I think we have good chemistry,” Donovan told a small group of reporters late Tuesday night. “I think they care about each other, I think they’re doing the best job they can leadership-wise, but the season is so long and I still think we can get better and improve. I do know I like dealing with these guys. When we walk on the court to play, it’s not like our guys are overwhelmed. They’ve seen just about everything.”

    Florida has been to three consecutive Elite Eights. Seniors Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Patric Young were a part of all three Elite Eight squads, while eight players have been involved in at least one. With that much experience at his disposal, Donovan built a nonconference schedule that can only be described as challenging.

    The Gators’ two losses have come by a combined seven points at Wisconsin and Connecticut. Their last three wins, Florida St., Kansas and Memphis have come by a combined nine points, and there was also the matter of walking into a foreign environment at Jacksonville and tangling with 2013 Sun Belt champion Middle Tennessee St.

    “These four games, Florida St., at UConn, Kansas, this game and now having to go back and play Fresno St. Saturday at a neutral site, throw Wisconsin in there, I think these games have helped us get better,” Donovan said. “In a lot of these games, we haven’t had a full complement of players, so hopefully we can get better. “I think every game is an opportunity to learn, and grow and get better. It’s still very, very early in the season and for our team, this is big.”

    Saturday will see the Gators take on Fresno St. in what is technically a neutral site, the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla, which is approximately a five-hour drive from Gainesville.

    The good news for Florida, besides getting healthy and eligible assuming Walker is on the way, is that after arriving home from New York, it will not have to get on an airplane until a trip to Arkansas on Jan. 8. After Fresno, the Gators will host Savannah St., Richmond and then South Carolina to open SEC play on Jan. 4.

    “I think our guys have grown and gotten better,” Donovan said. “They’re coachable and good kids and have good chemistry, but I still think we have a lot of room to get better.”

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