While it waits for one of the nation's top recruits to get ready, Florida will continue to tune up for next month's SEC opener.
After finishing with a winning record in its trio of matchups against ranked teams, the No. 16 Gators seek to avoid a letdown when they face Fresno State in Saturday's Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise, Fla.
Chris Walker was cleared to join Florida's practices last weekend after getting past his academic issues, but it's unknown when the 6-foot-10 high school all-American will make his debut for the Gators (8-2). Coach Billy Donovan said Thursday that wouldn't come against Fresno State.
"Chris is going to be a very, very good player but he has not played competitive basketball since February," Donovan said. "He has been in three practices for us. He just hasn't been around."
Florida heads into the Miami area after winning the final two of its three games against Top 25 opponents and its improved performance in close games went a long way. The Gators were 0-6 in contests decided by single digits in 2012-13 but are 4-2 this season after a 77-75 win over No. 15 Memphis on Tuesday in New York.
"These games have helped us get better," Donovan said. "I think every game is an opportunity to learn and grow and get better. It's still very early in the season."
Leading scorer Casey Prather had eight of his team-best 22 points in the final 3:15, including two key free throws with 27 seconds to go. Florida committed a season-high 17 turnovers, though, and allowed an opponent to top 70 points for the first time.
"We didn't play our best game," forward Patric Young told the school's website. "But maybe a game like this will help us be the best team we can be down the line."
Florida would appear to get a good chance to keep improving against the unheralded Bulldogs (6-5). The Gators have three more games - all in their own state - before SEC play begins Jan. 8 against South Carolina.
Fresno State has dropped four straight on the road, including each of its last two overall contests. The Bulldogs, who have needed overtime to earn three of their wins, have been beaten by a combined 24 points in the last two games and shot a season-low 32.8 percent in last Saturday's 67-56 loss at California. Leading scorer Marvelle Harris missed 13 of 18 shots to finish with a team-best 13 points.
Harris, averaging 17.9 points, had surpassed 20 points in three of his previous four games and shot better than 50.0 percent in five of his prior six.
This is the first meeting between the schools. The Bulldogs have lost 11 in a row to ranked teams since a 58-52 victory over No. 14 Oklahoma State on Feb. 10, 2002.
The Associated Press News Service
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