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Saturday March 3, 2012No Margin For Error: Gators Host No. 1 Kentucky in Regular Season Finale

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Coaches roll out the word “execution” as much as they roll out basketballs at practice, but the term has taken on an additional meaning for the Florida Gators. 

 

“People think execution is how efficiently you’re running your offense; the timing on screens, crisp passing, stuff like that,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “But the execution I’m talking about with these guys is about playing good defense; like when a shot goes up, coming down with the basketball. Making the play that has to be made.” 

 

That explanation feeds into another catch phrase Donovan and his staff are saying a lot as the team heads down the home stretch of the season. 

 

Margin for error. 

 

The Gators (22-8, 10-5), with injuries and depth issues in the frontcourt, no longer have one. 

 

Oh, and No. 1 Kentucky (29-1, 15-0) is in town this weekend. 

 

“Even less margin,” UF freshman guard Bradley Beal said. “Slim to none.”

 

In a 78-58 at Lexington last month, the Gators made just 33.3 percent of their field-goal attempts, including a measly 6-for-27 (22.2 percent) from the 3-point line. The Wildcats, meanwhile, made nearly 52 percent from the floor and had an array of those signature lob dunks to 6-foot-10 center and National Player of the Year frontrunner Anthony Davis. 

 

No offense. No defense. No chance. 

 

Still, the Gators, depleted in numbers following the season-ending injury to forward and defensive wiz Will Yeguete, see a wonderful opportunity to take a step forward Sunday. 

 

“Watch them on the film, they look an all-star team,” Beal said. “But they have their weaknesses like everybody else.”

 

“They have a great record, but they’re beatable; they’ve been beaten once already,” junior guard Kenny Boynton said of the Wildcats, whose lone blemish is a one-point road loss at Indiana, which hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the win. “We just have to come in, play hard and play smart. At the end of the day, rebounding is going to be a key. We have to rebound their misses.” 

 

The last few days of UF practice have been about attention to details. On Thursday, the Gators weren’t on those details very well. 

 

Example: During a scrimmage session, the defensive team allowed four straight offensive rebounds. Donovan was not pleased. Eventually, he stopped practice and scheduled one for later that night. 

 

“We have a very, very immature team when it comes to understanding some things,” Donovan said. 

 

The practices since that aborted one, though, have been much better, including both Saturday. The main emphasis throughout has been the need to locate Davis and Terrance Jones in the halfcourt, putting bodies on them when they come off screens and preventing them from having an unfettered line to launch for the rim.

 

Then again, there’s only so much the Gators can replicate with Cody Larson and Walter Pitchford providing the scout team looks of a pair of future NBA lottery picks. 

 

But that’s the situation this team faces right now. The Gators are banged up, on a two-game losing streak, with the best team in the country coming in. 

 

And it’s not like Davis and Jones are the lone problems the Wildcats present. 

 

“We can’t let [Michael] Kidd-Gilchrist get to the rim on fastbreaks. We can’t let [Doron] Lamb take open 3-pointer shots. We can’t get Davis roam free for lobs,” Boynton said, basically listing the UK elements that destroyed them Feb. 7 at Rupp Arena. “Those are all things that really fuel their team.” 

 

Knowing the threats are one thing. Stopping them are something else. 

 

“If we slip up on either end, they’ll make you pay on the other end,” Beal said. “That’s what happened last game.” 

 

If UF has a ridiculous offensive performance like it did at Arkansas, or even a decent one like it had in Tuesday’s loss at Vanderbilt, the Gators certainly will be in the game. Good luck, Gators. Kentucky leads the SEC in field-goal defense at 36.4 percent.

 

So, if Florida is clanging balls off the rim -- like it’s done in a handful of conference games this year -- the Gators will have no chance without being on those aforementioned details. 

 

“I’m trying to prepare them for when we don’t shoot the ball well. That’s what this is all about,” Donovan said. “When we don’t have a good shooting night, when we’re struggling, we have to manufacture [points] off defensive possessions and defense rebounds and get out in transition and get to the free-throw line.”  

 

When forward Erik Murphy gets his two hands on a missed Kentucky shot, he has to pull it down. 

 

Has to,” Donovan said with emphasis. “Will Yeguete’s not here to get that rebound. He’s gone. Done. We gotta have it. And that’s what I mean by no margin for error.” 

 

That’s also what he means by execution. 

 

Gotta have it. Against Kentucky and beyond. 

 

 

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