Cardinals tangle with Gators tonight

Cardinals tangle with Gators tonight

By Chris McManes

GAINESVILLE, FLA. – When Florida Coach Billy Donovan and his wife, Christine, hosted the CUA men's basketball team for dinner Wednesday night, a family friend told the coach that she wanted to see the Gators win and Cardinal sophomore Billy Donovan score 36 points.

"That's not going to happen," the coach said amid laughter.

Not only will the younger Donovan probably not score 36 points, but no Card is liable to attain that point total. CUA faces a monumental task playing the Gators tonight, a team rated in the top 10 in most preseason polls. Game time is 7 p.m.

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Even the Division II teams that Florida usually plays don't fare well in the O'Connell Center. Donovan, the reigning Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year, is 34-2-1 in exhibition games since taking over the Gators in 1995.

Florida is loaded with talent and is a likely national championship contender. Donovan led the Gators to back-to-back national titles in 2006-07. His team was 29-8 last year and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight. Donovan has a lot he hopes to accomplish this evening.

"We've got some guys in some different roles and we'll be under the lights for the first time in uniform," Donovan said. "We've got a lot of guys returning from last year's team, but a lot of guys did not play significant roles and some of their roles have changed.

"So it's important to get them an opportunity before we open up to play against a team that does a lot of really, really good things. I think it will, hopefully, help prepare us for the regular season."

CUA's Donovan knows the Gators well and played a lot of pick-up games with them during the summer. He talked about what the Cards have to do to compete.

"Florida's got great size, with Erik Murphy and Patric Young down low, and they've got really good wings with Brad Beal, Kenny Boynton, Michael Rosario and Erving Walker," Donovan said. "So we're going to try to play smart and stick to the fundamentals: boxing out, out-playing your man, not picking up stupid fouls or trying to steal a pass when it's not there.

"We're going to try to play real smart basketball and just execute our offense and do what we do in practice."

The Cardinals will be playing for the first time without graduated seniors Jason Banzhaf and R.J. Dixon, both of whom scored more than 1,000 career points. Junior power forward Chris Kearney is the leading returning scorer (7.8 points per game), and junior point guard Shawn Holmes averaged 7.6 points and 3.1 assists. Sophomore Pete Schramm (3.8 rebounds per game) will man the center position.

"I think an important thing tonight is to not back down from them," freshman Steve Limberiou said. "Obviously, they're one of the top 10 teams in the country. But I think that our team needs to play with confidence and be confident in what we can do, and not worry about what they have."

Music to Coach's Ears
When Coach Steve Howes sent out the Florida trip itinerary to his team Monday, he reminded them that they are representing the university, the basketball program and their family. What they do or say can either reflect positively or negatively on a lot of people.

So when one of the breakfast servers at the Hilton Garden Inn told the coach how polite his team was, he appreciated hearing it.

"This is the most polite team we've ever had here," she said.

Swamp Cardinals
Following a two-hour practice at Florida's home arena and lunch Wednesday, the Cards received a guided tour of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the Gators' home football field. Florida won national championships in 2006 and 2008 and is hosting a Homecoming game against Vanderbilt on Saturday.

The tour included a visit to the president's suite, which holds 300 on game days. Good luck scoring one of those invitations.

Dinner at the Donovans
Billy and Christine Donovan hosted the Cardinals for dinner at their home Wednesday night. The players enjoyed playing pool and video games and admiring the coach's home office, which is full of memorabilia of his playing and coaching career.

There's a photo of Donovan after he helped lead Providence College to the 1987 Final Four. University of Louisville Coach Rick Pitino was head coach of that team. Donovan's two National Championship rings also drew a lot of rave reviews.

So Long Weekends
The Landmark Conference voted to do away with playing back-to-back games on the weekends, beginning next season. Instead, the conference will go to a more traditional Wednesday / Saturday schedule. During the week, when the men are playing on the road, the women will be at home, both playing the same school. On Saturday, the squads will play a doubleheader.

Chris McManes is a former Cardinal sports information director.