Florida got lucky last season when a last-second shot catapulted it past Butler and sparked a run to the national title game.
But the way things are going, the Gators (11-3, 1-2 SEC) might be lucky to field a team by the end of the season. The injury bug has bitten them and it won't let go, having claimed three starters so far.
"You follow a successful year, where every ball has bounced your way," Georgia coach Jim Harrick said of Florida's success last season. "And now this year, it seems like every ball is bouncing the other way."
Harrick had a close-up view of the Gators' plummeting fortunes in the Bulldogs' 75-72 upset victory Wednesday in Gainesville, Fla., where Florida lost point guard Justin Hamilton to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee with 1:10 left in the game.
Hamilton is out for the season, and two other Gators who suffered injuries in early January - power forward Brent Wright (foot) and shooting guard Teddy Dupay (back) - are out indefinitely.
Also, guard LaDarius Halton isn't completely recovered from knee surgery that sidelined him all of last season.
"We've got basically six players right now," said Gators coach Billy Donovan.
Junior walk-on David Kliewer, a guard who has played 20 minutes and scored four points in his career, will be called upon in a backcourt now run by freshman point guard Orien Greene. Of the players Donovan has left, four are sophomores and two are freshmen. So he's not about to predict another run to the NCAA title game - let alone an appearance in the tournament.
"Certainly we're going to have to win games and play well the next 13 games to have a chance to do that," said Donovan, whose team plays host to Vanderbilt on Saturday. "The mind set is that when Dupay gets back and when Wright gets back, everything is going to be OK. But when you don't practice for four weeks or six weeks, I can't expect those guys to be in the same form."
With wins at No. 7 Florida and then-No. 20 Ole Miss, Georgia has quickly and forcefully become the conference's biggest surprise. Harrick said the secret to the Bulldogs' turnaround is quite simple: After starting 6-6, Georgia has turned the corner by cornering the turnover market.
"We've quit turning the ball over," said Harrick, who helped the Bulldogs to their first back-to-back wins over ranked teams since 1995. "We were averaging 18 in the non-league games, now we're down to 10 and 12. That's been the difference in our basketball team."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.
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