Gators have little time to prep for Missouri
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — His team had just put together a thoroughly impressive — and thoroughly thorough — dismantling of Texas A&M on the road Thursday night. Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators were pretty darn giddy in the postgame locker room when the coach entered and huddled them up.
Donovan did not want to break the mood, but his message to the Gators was clear.
“I’m proud of how you prepared and how you played tonight. Great job,” Donovan said after UF’s 68-47 rout of the Aggies, who were coming off a road win against defending national champion Kentucky. “We can feel good about this one tonight and on the plane home, but tomorrow you need to listen to those guys. We have a game in 41 hours.”
Those guys were UF trainer David “Duke” Werner and strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene.
In facing the infamous Thursday-Saturday turnaround, the duties and wisdom of Werner and Greene became all the more pivotal as the 10th-ranked Gators (13-2, 3-0) quickly change their focus to 17th-ranked Missouri (13-3, 2-1). The Tigers come to town Saturday for a 2 p.m. ET tip-off and the first sellout at the O’Connell Center this season.
It's late-night travel, next-day treatment, truncated practices, study cram sessions and early afternoon game on the Gators schedule. The whirlwind combination is one SEC teams have dealt with since the start of the league’s lucrative TV agreement with ESPN for the 2009-10 season.
Over the past three years, Florida has faced the Thursday-Saturday scenario seven times and are a combined 13-1. After the win over the Aggies, the Gators hope to piggy-back a victory over the Tigers and take that mark to 15-1.
Clearly, they’re doing something right when it comes to this version of crunch time.
“We have a lot of veteran guys who are used to it,” junior center Patric Young said. “We’ll take care of our bodies and make sure we get our rest. When the ball is tipped, there won’t be any excuses.”
Donovan believes Missouri has the best point guard in the country in Phil Pressey, whose vision and anticipation would be difficult to prepare for if the Gators had five days.
Instead, they have mere hours.
“It’s a great challenge for us against a team that’s clearly a terrific and explosive offensive team with a lot of different weapons,” Donovan said. “We’re not going to be able to cover everything in that amount of time, but there’s key things they’re going to do and we’ll have to handle the best we can.”
The basketball element is only part of the process.
It’s one thing if the two games-three days combo involved a pair of home dates. It’s another situation entirely when flying home from Texas late Thursday, arriving in Florida early Friday, then scrambling to prep for an up-tempo team like Missouri — and an early afternoon tip, no less — with precious little practice, scouting and recovery time.
Several UF’s players were in 8:30 a.m. classes on Friday, too.
By the time the Gators were on the practice floor at 4:30 p.m., Werner’s training room had been a revolving door of players coming throughout the day for icing, stretching, heating, laser therapy and message therapy, whatever it took to get them ready. The ones fighting injuries, like junior forward Will Yeguete and his swollen knee, commanded even more attention.
“We throw it all at 'em,” Werner said.
The objective is a balance between physical and mental recovery, then priming for the game. For example, Greene put the team through stretches before and after the short practice late Friday afternoon, a workout that included two short video sessions focusing on Missouri.
After practice, players carpooled to a Gainesville hotel. Last season, Donovan started taking the team off campus the night before SEC home games to eliminate potential distractions.
“This way, we’re in control,” said Greene, who plays the part of barrack’s chief magnificently.
On Friday, Greene went to the local Trader Joe’s and loaded up on fruits, nuts and trail mixes to supplement the popular protein shakes players get after each practice and his training table menu.
After more meetings and more tape on Friday night, a curfew of 10 p.m. and lights out of 11 p.m. is enforced.
“Physical recovery goes from 10 p.m. to 12, with (midnight)-on being cognitive recovery,” Greene said. “If a guy goes to bed at 1 in the morning, he’s already missed two hours of physical repair and an hour of mental repair. That’s why it’s important to get your sleep and to get it at the right time.”
After another Greene-coordinated breakfast (a light one) on Saturday, UF will stretch and shoot-around at the O’Dome at 9:30 a.m., followed by a pregame meal and more rest, then be back on the home floor about 90 minutes before tipoff, hopefully in prime shape — mentally and physically — to run around with Pressey and friends.
“When it’s this fast, you can’t control the process,” Werner said. “But you can assist it.”
After that, it’s back in the hands of the players and coaches.