Horford practices, ready to play against Ohio State

The Ohio State game may be just one game in late December, but it's still a shot to go against the potential 2007 No. 1 NBA draft pick in freshman center Greg Oden. And that may have been the motivating factor for Florida junior Al Horford to speed up his recovery from a high ankle sprain.

Though he did not start, Horford entered the Gators' showdown against Ohio State just a few minutes into the first half on Saturday. Senior Chris Richard started in his place.

Horford was ruled out for Saturday's showdown in Gainesville on Thursday. But then on Friday, according to the university, the 6-foot-10 Horford practiced for the first time since suffering the injury Dec. 11. He participated in contact drills and his status for Saturday's game against No. 3 Ohio State was re-evaluated after Saturday morning's shootaround.

He went through shootaround Saturday without problems.

The Gators (10-2) haven't been at full strength in a month since Corey Brewer contracted mono and Joakim Noah dealt with an upper respiratory infection. Horford and Noah were expected to match up with Oden, in a game between two potential national title contenders.

The Gators (No. 4 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP) didn't want to rush Horford. Throughout the week, Florida's staff told ESPN.com there was no point in pushing him if he wasn't ready, with the ultimate goal having him set for the SEC season and beyond.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.