The morning after he had pulled a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds off the bench to spark Florida’s 86-60 rout of Ohio State last week, Al Horford was feeling the pain he had somehow blocked out while he was neutralizing the Buckeyes’ freshman phenom Greg Oden. Horford’s high ankle sprain didn’t seem to bother him during the game, but Sunday? That was a different story.
“It was pretty stiff and I thought a couple of days off would make it better but it was still really stiff,” said Horford before Thursday’s practice as the Gators prepped for their Saturday game with UAB (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports/Sun Sports). “I didn’t do any treatment for it though, no icing or anything. It’s getting better now.”
Horford was listed as doubtful all of last week prior to the nationally televised game with then third-ranked Ohio State. Having Horford back against the Buckeyes was critical for the third-ranked Gators, now 11-2. When he’s able to play, Florida has a lethal three-man rotation in the post that is tall (Horford 6-10, Joakim Noah 6-11 and Chris Richard 6-9) and very athletic.
Horford is a power player that has developed a nice touch on a jump shot that looks good to about 12 feet from the basket. Noah is at his best in the high post where he can use his ball handling skills and quickness to create a real mismatch and Richard is pure power with effective scoring moves in the low post. Because Noah and Richard had some first half foul difficulties, Horford’s role in the Ohio State game was even more important.
Coach Billy Donovan brought Horford off the bench about two minutes into the game and he provided the Gators with their best defensive answer against Ohio State freshman Greg Oden, a 7-1, 280-pounder whom many experts are predicting will become one of the greatest centers ever. Horford was able to hold his ground and did a great job of boxing out to keep Oden off the boards.
On the offensive end, Horford was able to hit three jump shots and that opened things up considerably in the paint in the second half when Florida went on a 31-7 run to blow the game wide open. What made Horford’s effort and the effort of the entire Florida team so impressive against Ohio State was the level of intensity the Gators brought to the game.
Horford has seen that intensity level before and he knows that good things happen when the Gators have that kind of focus.
“I feel like when we’re playing at that level of intensity we’re a tough team,” he said. “We have to find ways to get to that level every game. We can’t just turn it on and off. We have to try to keep it up like that.
“I think that now we’ve seen how we did we can look back on it and build up on that. I think we did a good job of doing that last year. I think Kentucky at Kentucky was a turning game for us. I feel we came out there with that same intensity and it changed our season.”
Horford gave Florida an emotional lift against Ohio State when he entered the game for the first time. It took awhile to get into the flow of the game largely due to the stiffness and a moderate amount of pain in the ankle.
“He played tentatively because he hadn’t practiced,” said Donovan. “He settled in and played like he’s capable of playing in the second half.”
Horford scored all 11 of his points in the second half. He said the game opened up for him once he realized it was just a case of mind over matter.
“At the beginning of the game in the first half I realized I had to go out there and just block it out [pain] and play through it,” he said.
Donovan thinks that it might take some time before Horford can go an entire game without any pain. There isn’t any chance that Horford can damage the ankle any more. It’s just a matter of getting the ankle loose enough to the point where the soreness becomes tolerable.
“I just think it’s something that’s going to be lingering here for awhile,” said Donovan. “There are no further problems creating more damage by him working out or playing, some of the stuff that he’s just got to get through and get over.”
Donovan said that it might take a few more games before Horford starts again. He’s comfortable starting Richard and bringing Horford off the bench. He believes that until Horford can go through a full practice regimen he will be bringing the big junior off the bench.
“He understands and knows that he’s got to go through a whole practice and do all that is expected and asked of him,” said Donovan. “I just think he’s still sore, still stiff and still hurting. Until he gets past that point we’ll still go with Chris.”
UAB GAME NOTES: Taurean Green leads Florida in scoring with a 13.6 average. He’s hit his last 19 free throws in a row and is now 31-39 for the season (79.5 percent) … Florida is hitting 54.8 percent of its shots from the field and 42.9 percent from the three-point line. Opponents are hitting 38.2 percent from the field and 30.1 percent from the three-point line … Green leads the Gators with 53 assists while Noah has 41 and Corey Brewer has 35 … Brewer leads the team with 19 steals … Walter Hodge leads the Gators in three-points shooting at a phenomenal 70 percent (21-30) … Horford has 24 blocked shots while Noah has 23 … Freshman Dan Werner has hit six of his last 12 three-point shots after starting the season 5-29 … Lee Humphrey had a brilliant game against Ohio State with 12 points, five assists and no turnovers.