If this season is starting to feel like a déjà vu experience for Billy Donovan there is every good reason. Rewind back to the 2001 season. Teddy Dupay had a ruptured disk, Brent Wright blew out his foot and Justin Hamilton blew out his knee, turning a team that began the season capable of getting to a second straight Final Four into one that got knocked out by Temple in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
This year’s Gators have already seen both Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill miss games with ankle issues and both Eli Carter and Dillon Graham are taking medical redshirts. Wilbekin missed six games and Dorian Finney-Smith missed three because of suspensions. Damontre Harris was suspended three games and then left the team only to return again. He can practice but he won’t play this season. And Chris Walker is still in limbo, waiting for the NCAA to declare him eligible.
While that might seem like a two or three year’s worth of trouble wrapped up in one season, the news doesn’t get any better for the 10th-ranked Gators (12-2, 1-0 SEC) Saturday when they travel to Fayetteville to face Arkansas (11-3, 0-1 SEC) at Bud Walton Arena (1 p.m., ESPN2). Leading scorer Casey Prather (17.0) won’t play, Wilbekin and Patric Young are questionable and Michael Frazier missed a practice because of a calf issue suffered in Wednesday night’s win over South Carolina.
Wilbekin left Wednesday night’s game with a sprained ankle with 2:39 remaining. He hasn’t practiced since Wednesday and will be a game time decision.
“Missed both practices yesterday and today,” Donovan said Friday afternoon before the Gators left for Fayetteville. “(He) felt like he could do some stuff today, kind of a trainer’s decision to hold him out. I would say that right now that he will probably give it some kind of a try. What we can get out of him I really don’t know at this point in time.”
Prather bruised a bone in his knee during the South Carolina game and he’s definitely out. There was some concern that the injury might be serious, an MRI Thursday night came up negative.
“He actually had some swelling. We actually thought there might have been some cartilage tear the way his knee was swelling, so he had an MRI last night – cartilage tear, knee structure that stuff is fine – but he’s out tomorrow and Patric (Young, sore knees) did not practice today. He’s cleared to play but I’m not sure how much we’ll get out of him, the way he’s looked the last couple of days with sore knees.”
Frazier took a knee in his calf against South Carolina so he missed practice Friday before the Gators packed up for the road trip, but he’s expected to play.
If this were the first time Donovan has ever had to deal with a rash of injuries there might be some concern in his voice, but he simply said that the Gators will go with whoever is ready to play Saturday.
“We’ve had this before and we’ve also dealt with some of this in the past, so the hand we’re dealt with we’ll in there and we’ll go in there best we can and do the best job with what we’ve got and see who’s available,” Donovan said.
The injuries will not only affect the Gators with the starting lineup but with depth as well, particularly if Wilbekin and Young can only give limited minutes.
“How many minutes Scottie can play and even if he can play is up in the air,” Donovan said. “Prather is definitely out. He’s not playing. We’ll have to wait and see with Patric.”
Friday’s practice lineup was Kasey Hill at the point, DeVon Walker at the wing, with Jacob Kurtz at small forward, Dorian Finney-Smith at power forward and Will Yeguete at center. If only Frazier is available, the Gators will have a six-man rotation to go against the wave of players Arkansas will run on the floor. The Razorbacks go 11 deep with all 11 averaging double figures minutes.
The Razorbacks will go bell-to-bell with full court pressure in an attempt to not only wear opponents out, but force a faster pace game. Donovan doesn’t mind the faster pace, but the Arkansas depth can create a lot of issues.
“They do a really really good job defensively in creating and trying to force turnovers,” Donovan said. “I think it’s going to be an up tempo, up and down kind of game. Both teams are going to run. Because of their depth of playing 11 guys double figures minutes it’s like they can see who’s playing well together and maybe make some adjustments.”
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
FLORIDA (12-2, 1-0 SEC): Will Yeguete (6-8, 230, SR), Dorian Finney-Smith (6-8, 214, RJR); Jacob Kurtz (6-6, 210, JR); DeVon Walker (6-6, 195, SO); Kasey Hill (6-1, 181, FR)
ARKANSAS (11-3, 0-1 SEC): Coty Clarke (6-7, 232, SR); Bobby Portis (6-10, 242, FR); Rashad Madden (6-5, 180, JR); Rickey Scott Jr. (6-3, 209, SR); Fred Gulley III (6-2, 182, RSR)