Florida no longer has any starters from its national championship teams of the last two years. But nobody told the Gators they had to stop winning.
Coach Billy Donovan’s young team broke back into the AP Top 25 this week, and his 25th-ranked Gators (4-0) look to continue their fast start Tuesday when they host North Florida.
Florida (4-0) hit 11 3-pointers in Saturday’s 88-63 victory over Rutgers, which was Donovan’s 300th win as a head coach including a stint at Marshall.
“I feel very fortunate and blessed to be here at Florida, and still be able to be here,” said Donovan, who was briefly hired as head coach of the NBA’s Orlando Magic last offseason before having a change of heart and returning to Florida. “When you look at those things, it’s not really me and really I mean that. It doesn’t happen without the University of Florida, without the administration and certainly without the players who played here.”
The Gators lost 84 percent of their scoring from last year’s national championship team and returned just one regular reserve in Walter Hodge. The nine players who have appeared in every game for Florida thus far include five freshman, three sophomores and Hodge - a junior who made 4 of his 5 3-point attempts against Rutgers. There are no seniors on the roster.
The new talent appears ready to make its own mark. Though they’ve started with four relatively weak opponents at home, the Gators have won by an average of more than 29 points to extend their overall winning streak to 14 games.
The Gators have also won a school-record 23 straight at home.
Donovan challenged Marreese Speights last week, and the 6-foot-10 sophomore responded with 18 points and 12 rebounds in just 24 minutes against Rutgers. The Gators went on a 17-2 run at the end of the first half and ran away from Rutgers after that. All five Florida starters scored in double figures.
“I thought it was a great environment in there,” Donovan said. “We finally were able to put together some possessions of stops and it led to some transition baskets for us. We made some 3s, got some stuff going to the rim, had a couple free throws, got a couple offensive rebounds. A lot of good things happened, but certainly the electricity in the building was phenomenal.”
The Gators beat North Florida 86-40 in Gainesville last November in the first-ever meeting between the schools.
The Ospreys (1-2) hail from the Atlantic Sun Conference, which has produced major upsets from Gardner-Webb, Mercer and Belmont this season. However, struggling North Florida won just one game in conference play in 2006-07, and finished 3-26 overall.
North Florida held Division II school Concordia College to nine second-half points Friday in a 57-41 win, the Ospreys’ first of the season. Senior guard Chris Timberlake - with 10 points - was the only Ospreys player in double figures. Tom Hammonds, who is averaging a team-high 13 points through the first three games, scored a season-low eight.