Mike Rosario the spark Gators need

Junior Mike Rosario saw early playing time against the Bulldogs after coming off an ankle injury that has limited him for the past few weeks, and he quickly poured in seven straight points to help Florida get on a 14-2 run to take control against Georgia.

Coach Billy Donovan was happy to see the early production from the former Rutgers shooting guard, but he got a little peeved at him a few minutes later.

“The one I got a little bit annoyed at was the airball in the first half,” Donovan said, grinning as he continued. “He said, ‘Well, I was open.’ I said, ‘If you were that open then you are a really bad shooter.’ If you’re going to claim yourself as a shooter and you actually shoot an airball when you’re open, at least tell me the ball slipped out of your hands or something.”

Rosario has been bearing a bit of criticism from Donovan lately, but he’s shown flashes of potential that make Florida a completely different team when he’s healthy.

He has one of the cleanest shooting strokes on the team, shooting 44.8 percent from the floor and 39.3 percent from three.

“I think Mike Rosario had a really, really great two days Sunday and Monday going into [the Georgia] game, and I think it showed up in the first half,” Donovan said. “I thought Mike, in the first half, gave us maybe a different dimension than we’ve had because of his injured ankle and not being able to play.”

If Donovan is harsh on Rosario, it’s because he knows the potential the former McDonald’s All-American has. At Rutgers, Rosario averaged more than 16 points per game in his two seasons there.

He can be a powerful weapon off the bench when he’s playing hard and he’s healthy. He’ll be a guy Florida needs to make a deep NCAA Tournament run, so he was certainly happy to get back out there against Georgia.

“It felt great to go out there and just be able to compete again to my full ability,” Rosario said. “Now that I’m healthy, I’ve got a lot to bring to the team, so I felt that opportunity was there [against Georgia] and I went out there and just concentrated on the things I needed to do to help the team win.”

Though Rosario finished the night shooting cold, he played excellent defense early in the game. His hustle allowed Florida to get a couple quick points in transition, and he finished well in the wide-open style his defense helped create.

Doing that on a consistent basis is something Donovan has emphasized.

“The focus was just to keep [Georgia] out of the paint as much as we can,” Rosario said. “Focus on rebounding as well. I thought we did a good job collectively as a team defending all the stuff and rebounding the ball.”

If Rosario can continue to defend more consistently like he did in the first half against the Bulldogs, the Gators will be a much more dangerous team.

Florida fans have witnesses how deadly Rosario can be when he’s clicking on offense, and Donovan has given him the green light to shoot.

“I try to give him some freedom there,” Donovan said. “I think Mike always has been a real good scorer, so what he did was not uncharacteristic in his ability. But getting those points, those seven points, in the first half, that helps your team.”