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Wright's loss wrecks plans

The Gators forward, out 3-6 weeks with a stress fracture, was a crucial participant in the team's fullcourt press.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2001


Florida spent the past two months working on its chemistry, only to have the formula change just before the start of Southeastern Conference play.

Suddenly, a key element is missing.

No. 5 Florida will be without senior forward Brent Wright when it opens SEC play today at South Carolina, leaving precious little depth in the frontcourt.

"Any time you lose a player of Brent's status, certainly, you miss him," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "We're going to have to do some different things from a coaching standpoint."

Wright, a three-year starter, had a compression screw surgically inserted in his right foot Thursday to repair a stress fracture. He is expected to miss three to six weeks.

Senior forward Major Parker, who experienced back spasms last week, may not play against the Gamecocks, leaving UF with just eight scholarship players.

"We certainly realize we have a very difficult challenge playing South Carolina on the road," Donovan said. "I said last year in February, I felt they were playing as well as anyone in our league. And they have almost everyone back."

South Carolina returns five starters from last season's 15-17 club that struggled early, but came on strong to reach the SEC Tournament final. The Gamecocks (8-3) have 11 players averaging more than 10 minutes and four averaging double-figure scoring.

Florida, which thrives on wearing down opponents with its fullcourt pressure and heavy substitution pattern, will be at a rare disadvantage when it comes to depth.

The Gators will be particularly thin in the frontcourt, where sophomore Matt Bonner (12.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg) moves into the starting lineup and freshman Bonell Colas (5.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg) becomes the only post player off the bench. Bonner is a solid scoring threat worthy of a starting job, but Colas, at 6-feet-9, 196 pounds, may have trouble adjusting to the physical post play in the SEC.

"It's definitely bad timing, but that's just the way things happen," Bonner said. "I'll just approach this like any other game and play hard. It won't be any different if I'm starting or coming off the bench."

Wright, whom Donovan calls "the most underrated player in the country," will be missed in every facet of the game plan. A scoring and rebounding threat, Wright usually guarded the opponent's best post player and was the point man in UF's fullcourt press.

Wright is the only player to rank among the SEC top 10 in scoring (15.9 ppg, seventh), rebounding (7.1 rpg, ninth), field goal percentage (59.1, fourth), free-throw percentage (83.1, fifth) and steals (2.2 spg, fourth).

"I don't think there's a drop-off bringing Matt Bonner in," center Udonis Haslem said. "Our strength is in our numbers."

Last season, Florida used a 10-player rotation to tire opponents. Without Wright and Parker, two of the Gators' most tenacious defenders, the rotation is down to eight.

"It will be a great challenge for our coaching staff as far as trying to plug in, fill in and do different things to make sure we've got the guys on the floor who can help us get a win," Donovan said.

Today: No. 5 Florida at South Carolina

WHEN/WHERE: 2; Frank McGuire Arena, Columbia, S.C.

TV/RADIO: Ch. 38; WDAE-AM 620.

RECORDS: UF 10-1; USC 8-3.

COACHES: UF -- Billy Donovan (88-50, fifth season; 123-70 overall). USC -- Eddie Fogler (116-105, eighth season; 258-185 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: UF -- Udonis Haslem, C, 6-8 Jr. (17.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg); Teddy Dupay, G, 5-10 Jr. (14.8 ppg); Matt Bonner, F, 6-9 So. (12.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Brett Nelson, G, 6-3 So. (11.5 ppg, 4.4 apg). USC -- Chuck Eidson, F, 6-7 So. (10.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Tony Kitchings, C, 6-10 So. (10.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg); Aaron Lucas, G, 5-11 Jr. (10.8 ppg, 4.3 apg); Jamel Bradley, G, 6-2 Jr. (10.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg).

NOTES: Florida opens its Southeastern Conference schedule on the road for the third consecutive season. The Gators lost at Vanderbilt (87-77) in 2000 and at Kentucky (93-58) in 1999. ... UF senior forward Brent Wright is expected to miss three to six weeks after having surgery Thursday to correct a stress fracture in his right foot. Wright was second in scoring (15.9 ppg) and rebounding (7.1 rpg). ... Florida has won four straight against South Carolina. ... After a 3-2 start, the Gamecocks have won five of six.

-- Compiled by Joanne Korth.

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