Donovan expects physicality from Pittsburgh

Donovan expects physicality from Pittsburgh

The Gators have seen physical teams this season. Florida State's big men challenged them in the non-conference portion of the schedule before Tennessee used its two 260-pound big men to push Florida. Billy Donovan's team is now preparing for another team that wants to dominate the paint.

The senior experience that led Florida to its current 27-game winning streak is also what makes Pittsburgh a challenge on Saturday at 12:15 p.m. in Orlando. Senior forward Lamar Patterson leads the Panthers with 17.4 points this season, including two 30-point games and 12 20-point games.

But the toughness and strength that could change Florida comes in the paint. Pittsburgh center Talib Zanna is 6-9, 230 pounds of energy and enthusiasm. He's averaging 13.1 points and 8.6 rebounds this season. The senior center posted 18 points on 6-7 shooting from the field and 6-6 from the free throw line on Thursday.

"I definitely think it's going to be a physical game," Billy Donovan said. "Zanna, I've got a lot of respect for him. He's a high-motor, high-energy guy. A great, great rebounder, great runner, a great defender in pick-and-roll. He's a great help defender. They've gotten a lot of productivity out of their frontcourt.

"I would imagine it will be a physical game. It's interesting because both teams trap the low post. They do a really good job trapping the low post. We try to do the same thing. So how effective each team's frontcourt is scoring is going to be interesting because of the way both teams play post defense in the frontcourt."

The Panthers put together a complete performance in their 29-point win over Colorado on Thursday. Even with their physicality and tough defense, the Panthers turned the ball over just three times, all three coming in the second half when the game was already decided.

They had 18 assists on 31 made field goals, proving to take care of the ball and share it, something that caught Donovan's eye during preparation this week.

"Pittsburgh is an outstanding passing team," Donovan said. "They really do a great job."

That won't deter the Gators from implementing their full court press. It has been an important part of what Florida has used this season, especially against a team that wants to slow the game down and turn it into a half court affair. Albany, a team that Donovan called another great passing team, had little issue breaking Florida's press on Thursday.

Even when it isn't producing turnovers, Donovan is hoping to impact the pace of the game and waste energy of the opponent.

"It's disruptive, it's something you have to deal with every single possession," Donovan said. "I think there's other things you can get out of the press. It's our style of play. It's kind of what we do. You'd want to turn teams over a lot, but if you don't, I still think for us we're getting nine players in the game. We're able to deal and manage with some foul difficulties, and then a lot of times teams are playing with a shorter shot clock.

"I think Pittsburgh, they do a terrific job attacking the press. They're going to try to attack the score. They're very good at that. So our rotations and what we do in our press will be important because they really do a terrific job in the middle of the floor passing and making decisions and attacking the basket."

Sophomore point guard James Robinson will take on the challenge of trying to break Florida's press. Donovan had time to work with Robinson when both were a part of the USA Basketball program in recent years.

The Florida coach complimented his basketball IQ and winning qualities that have helped him lead the Panthers this season.

"I love James," Donovan said. "Great kid, great player, winner, total team guy, unselfish, comes up with a lot of big plays for their team. He really had a lot to do with our team the last two summers winning gold medals. He was a big part of that, and he's obviously doing great for Jamie (Dixon) here at Pitt."

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