Florida already had a short turnaround playing Ole Miss on Thursday night and will be forced to come back home to host Mississippi State at 1:30 p.m. in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Saturday.
That turnaround got even shorter when the plane they were supposed to fly out of Oxford on got hung up on a connection. The team drove to Tupelo to fly out and then sat on the plane for an extra 45 minutes because the flight crew couldn’t get in touch with Memphis air control.
When all was said and done, Billy Donovan and his team didn’t arrive back on campus till about 1:30 a.m. on Friday morning.
“I think that we’ll be fine,” Donovan said. “They’ve got enough time to get enough rest. I think we were wise today in practice, I don’t think we went (too hard).”
Donovan made headlines earlier in the week when he joined Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings in his critique of the league’s scheduling, which puts several teams on a number of Thursday-Saturday turnarounds, while a few of the league’s team are not required to play on the short break.
Ironically, Donovan thinks the added hiccup in travel plans following a come-from-behind win on the road at Ole Miss can actually be a good thing for his team.
“I do think there is some elements of this that I think hopefully brings the team together,” he said. “I think a little adversity, challenge, never hurt anybody (and) can help our team get better. I don’t think that our team should have any excuses in terms of energy or focus or anything like that. I think they’re playing against a really good team, and they realize that.”
The No. 14 Gators will have their hands full with the No. 18 Bulldogs, who provide another matchup problem with their size in the frontcourt. The Bulldogs are led by 6-foot-11, 249-pound Arnett Moultrie and 6-foot-10, 280-pound Renardo Sidney in the post. Rodney Hood, the 6-foot-8 small forward also has a lot of length.
Florida is coming off its worst rebounding performance of the season against a lengthy Ole Miss team, losing the rebounding margin by 18.
“There are some similarities between the teams,” Donovan said. “They kind of present a lot of problems up front, as does Ole Miss. When you look at Hood and Moultrie and Sidney; real, real physical frontcourt team. I would say probably a team that talent-wise is as talented as any team we’ve played this year. I would say I thought Syracuse and Ohio State would be in that mix with them, I think they’ve got that kind of ability.”
Florida’s starting frontcourt hasn’t yet been decided. Sophomore center Patric Young has been on the bench for the past three games due to a right ankle injury, and Donovan wanted to meet with his staff Friday evening before making a decision on his return to the starting lineup.
Whoever starts will have the unenviable task of guarding Moultrie, who is averaging a double-double with 17.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.
Despite Moultrie’s effectiveness, Donovan is well aware the Gators can’t make the mistake of focusing too much on him on the defensive end of the floor.
“I just think that when you’re dealing with a team that’s got a lot of offensive weapons – (Dee) Bost is a problem, Sidney’s a problem, Moultrie’s a problem, Hood’s a problem, Steele when he comes off the bench with the way he shoots the ball is a problem – they’ve got a lot of answers at a lot of different spots,” he said. “I think when you’re playing them, it just can’t turn into this guy’s got this guy, this guy’s got that guy and they’re on their own, they’ve got to play a one-on-one game. We’ve got to be able to provide some help and we’ve got to be able to play collectively as a group to try to contain the ball wherever it may be, whether it’s on the perimeter or in the low post.”
Four starters are averaging in double-figures for the Rebels, and starting point guard Dee Bost is averaging 16.0 points per game. He’s always a threat to light it up from the perimeter when teams crash down into the paint too much.
That’s something Donovan said he thought Florida got caught doing against the Rebels, and it opened up some threes for Ole Miss, which the Rebels knocked down early and often.
Florida will need a well-rounded defensive effort Saturday if the Gators hope to keep pace with Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the SEC race. The Bulldogs are certainly capable of snapping Florida’s 16-game home winning streak.
“They’re a very, very good scoring team and a very gifted team offensively,” Donovan said.