It’s taken one game for No. 19 Florida to show it can handle the kind of adversity that imploded the team last season.
The Gators now look to further put aside a recent distraction on Sunday when they host Bradley in its second game as part of the CBE Classic.
Prior to Friday’s 80-58 win over Toledo, starting forward Nick Calathes confirmed a story first published online that he had run up a debt playing online poker. The sophomore swingman, though, finished with 16 points, seven assists and three steals as Florida used a game-breaking run that spanned the halves.
Afterward, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and coach Billy Donovan felt the matter was closed because Calathes had done nothing illegal - something Donovan emphasized in his post-game comments.
“The only thing I’m going to say about any of that stuff is the unfortunate part in all this is nobody on our team has done anything wrong,” Donovan said. “It’s amazing to me that stories can actually be written or talked about when someone’s done nothing wrong.
“We heard the rumors and we reacted to the rumors, responded to them, talked to Nick, talked to the team … handled the whole situation. To me, it’s not even a story. There’s no story. Nobody did anything wrong.”
Donovan admittedly was frustrated by this team last season, at one point throwing the players out of the locker room and banning them from wearing school gear. Despite reaching the NIT semifinals, he still was wary heading into the offseason, but the Gators overcame a slow start by shooting 52.9 percent and getting 12 steals while forcing 25 turnovers.
“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to press everybody like we did tonight, but I think the difference in the game for us was the pressure up the floor and forcing 25 turnovers,” Donovan said.
Like the Gators, Bradley survived a slow start in its season opener to beat Illinois-Chicago 67-60 on Friday. Dodie Dunson had 21 points as the Braves overcame 32.6 percent (15-for-46) shooting with some solid defense and a 33-14 edge at the foul line.
“They’re starting to buy in that our identity will be made on the defensive end of the floor,” Bradley coach Jim Les said. “Our team defense around Dodie was really good, that was a big key to the game.”
Theron Wilson added 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Braves, who will need both center David Collins and forward Sam Singh to try and contain Dan Werner, who anchored Florida’s frontcourt with 19 points.
“It’ll be a big challenge. It’s a program and team we respect and a great test for this young team,” Les said about playing the Gators. “I do know one thing, we’re going to lay it on the line. If they do that, they will give themselves a chance.”
Bradley won its last game against a Top 25 opponent, surprising Drake 72-71 on the road Feb. 19.
Florida won the only game between the teams in 1970.
The Gators will continue their portion of the CBE Classic on Nov. 24 against Syracuse in Kansas City, Mo., and then play either Kansas or Washington. Bradley will move on to play Missouri-Kansas City in a subregional in Fort Myers, Fla., where the Braves will also play Florida Gulf Coast and Richmond.