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November 12, 2013

Florida offers big test for UW

MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin Badgers know first hand how much of a handful the Florida Gators can be. They travelled down to Gainesville almost one year ago, a senior-laden team looking for a signature win.

But their hopes for a big time road win were shattered by an explosive Florida offense that shot 61.9 percent from the floor, and held the Badgers to just 35.6 percent shooting in a 74-56 loss. But even though Florida's roster has gone through some turnover since their last meeting, the Badgers still expect to see a talented take the court at the Kohl Center on Tuesday night for the second game of their home-and-home series.

Even still, this is a Florida team that's seen a lot of turnover during the past year. In addition to losing seniors Erik Murphy, Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario to graduation, the Gators are expected to be without point guard Scottie Wilbekin and shooting guards Damontre Harris and Dorian Finney-Smith, all of whom were suspended for the first few games of Florida's season. That's a tough blow for any team to take, but the Badgers think the Gators have enough playmakers to help them get through their season's opening act.

"They always have a lot of good players, so if they're missing one or two or whatever it's not as big of a factor as what I've seen at other programs," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said Monday at a meeting with media members. "He's got a lot of guys who had unbelievable credentials coming out of high school. They play hard, they always compete at a high level. The consistency is pretty obvious."

If anything, losing three key players in the backcourt might make the Gators attack the rim more often against the Badgers on Tuesday night. Forwards Will Yeguete and Patric Young are back after combining to score 17 points and pull down 15 rebounds against the Badgers last year, and the Badgers said they need to try and keep the Gators away from the rim if they want to pay the Gators back for their lopsided loss last year.

"They're a physical, SEC team," sophomore forward Sam Dekker said Sunday. "We're going to have to keep them off the glass and limit their paint touches. Whenever we can limit their paint touches as much as possible, it's going to swing in our favor."

Ryan said Florida's size and athleticism can be a problem for his team because it's hard to replicate just how explosive Billy Donovan's players can be in practice. Ryan credited his scout team for emulating the Gators and other teams as well as they can, but in the end young players like Nigel Hayes will have to adjust in-game to their opponents.

"Unfortunately our scout team doesn't have the athleticism of a lot of the teams, if not most of the teams, that we're playing. But they're smart players," Ryan said. "What you have to realize is the guys you're going to be going against are quicker, stronger for the most part than what they're seeing."

And just like last year, Tuesday's game gives the Badgers another opportunity to lock up a signature win they can point to when the calendar flips to March. So while Florida might be a little short-handed on Tuesday, a win over the No. 11 team in the country would undoubtedly impress at least few of the people who pick and seed teams for the NCAA Tournament.

"Not many schools do this," Ryan said. "Not many schools open up at home with a top ten opponent. A lot of teams like to have games early at home [where] they can get their rotations and feel for who should be playing."

The Badgers already have that part pretty much figured out. Now they need to see just how well they stack up with one of the most talented rosters in the country.

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.

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