Louisiana-Monroe-Florida Preview

BY foxsports • November 20, 2014

Losing four starters from last season is challenging enough to work through, but Florida's start to 2014-15 has been made even more interesting with a pair of key frontcourt absences.

At least one of them is going to return Friday night when the eighth-ranked Gators host Louisiana-Monroe in a preliminary round game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, their final tune-up before playing Georgetown in the Bahamas.

Forward Chris Walker is expected to debut after being suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. The sophomore's return might be considered a game too late.

The Gators (1-1) fell 69-67 on Monday to Miami to end the nation's third-longest home winning streak at a school-record 33 games. The defeat led coach Billy Donovan to reiterate his players have plenty of learning to do.

"As painful as it is for me - not that I want to see our guys lose - but they need to learn what really goes into winning," Donovan told the school's official website. "As hard as that is to say, they just don't have a clue."

Florida likely will be without forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who is expected to miss at least another game because of hairline fractures in the index and middle fingers on his left, non-shooting hand. Finney-Smith led the Gators in rebounding a season ago on his way to SEC Sixth Man of the Year honors, but he was hurt in last Friday's season-opening 68-45 win over William & Mary.

Three days later, Florida blew a 12-point halftime lead and allowed the Hurricanes to put up 48 second-half points.

Eli Carter scored 21, while point guard Kasey Hill had two points and is 1 for 12 from the floor this season.

"He struggled, really struggled," Donovan said. "I thought he did some good things moving and passing the basketball, but he's got to finish at the basket better. You see 1 for 9, and there weren't a lot of deep, long-range shots. He traveled one time in the open floor on the break. He missed several layups. He has to finish better and make some mid-range shots."

On a positive note, Jon Horford scored a career-high 17 and has reached double figures in both games after doing so six times in 107 with Michigan.

Louisiana-Monroe opened with a 74-65 win at UAB followed by a 106-39 home victory over Champion Baptist on Monday. No starter played more than 20 minutes, but the Warhawks still managed to set a school record for largest margin of victory while shooting 59.4 percent.

Coach Keith Richard was doing less celebrating than looking ahead to Florida after the game.

"They're known, year-in and year-out, for offense but I saw some of the tape from their first game and their defense was tremendous," Richard said. "We're going to have to be able to handle the ball, and in a hostile environment. We'll have to run our offense and not turn it over. So it was good for us to play against a man-to-man defense tonight since we'll play a very good man-to-man against the Florida Gators."

The Warhawks last beat a top-10 opponent Dec. 30, 1992, winning 87-78 over No. 9 Arkansas.