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Florida Gators basketball will have challenge bouncing back from blowout loss to Tennessee

GAINESVILLE — There is no panic, at least not yet.

At 18-4 overall and 5-2 in SEC play, the Florida men's basketball team isn't ready to start losing it after its 79-63 loss Saturday night at Tennessee.

Yeah, okay, the double-digit loss did come in front of a national television audience — with ESPN's GameDay crew on hand — but the players insisted Monday morning that the loss didn't batter their psyche.

But as the Gators prepare for the toughest part of their schedule, it's clear they are going to be in a dogfight down the stretch. And Saturday night's loss was a strong reminder there's still much work to be done.

"I think every game right now is going to be a test; I don't think there's any question about that," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We responded pretty well coming out of the (lost) South Carolina game against Vandy. And I thought we responded well playing against Georgia. … The big thing now is can we come back? I think in any league, it's going to be how you respond from game to game, night to night, practice to practice because there's no question it's a long year. It's a grind on guys mentally and physically, and how we come back and respond against a very good team will be important."

What is most evident based on Saturday night is that the Gators can't afford to have G Nick Calathes in foul trouble and have to get more production from senior G Walter Hodge and junior F Dan Werner. During the past six games, Hodge is 12-of-34 from the field, 5-of-20 from 3-point range. Werner is 14-of-38 and 6-of-20.

Florida, which hosts South Carolina tonight, is in a three-way tie atop the SEC East with the Gamecocks and Kentucky, with the Vols hanging close at 4-2 in the league.

The Gators still have two games against Kentucky and games against Tennessee and at LSU and Mississippi State. Slipping up at home is no longer an option.

"Home games are a must-win," sophomore F Chandler Parsons said. "You have to protect your homecourt."

Softball opens: After holding a charity event Sunday to benefit the cancer hospital at Shands at UF, the No. 1 softball team will open the season Friday with a three-game series against Baylor. The Gators return all but one starter from last year's Women's College World Series team. The 2008 team, which included Dunedin native and starting C Kristina Hilberth, set an NCAA record with 70 wins. UF coach Tim Walton is one who always believes there's room to improve, but even he realizes he has a very good team this season.

"We're pretty good," Walton said. "I think right now we're one player away from being the best or one of the best teams in the country. If we get our players to rise a little bit and we get a little better play out of a couple of players, you're going to see some really good things from this team — (assuming) we stay healthy and still enjoy the things we're doing on a daily basis."

Pro options: While on his trip to try out for the Greek Olympic team, Calathes apparently impressed some teams enough that they wanted him to stay.

After playing with the national team in Greece, Calathes said his family was approached by some of the lower-level pro teams in that country about signing with them.

"They called my dad a little bit, but it wasn't like big teams," Calathes said. "… It was not a big deal at all."

Calathes said he was never interested in not returning to the Gators. Eventually, he hopes to have to weigh his options about the NBA.

"It's not on my mind right now, to be honest," Calathes said. "I'm trying to win a championship for Florida, compete for an SEC championship."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

Florida Gators basketball will have challenge bouncing back from blowout loss to Tennessee 02/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 2, 2009 6:31pm]
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