Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
NEW ORLEANS -- Pessimistic Florida fans probably aren’t dreaming very big right now.
Their Gators ended the regular-season with a three-game losing streak and came to the Southeastern Conference Tournament knowing one win gets them a second date against No. 1-ranked Kentucky in less than a week. Oh boy.
That’s not March Madness, that’s just plain madness. But it’s the predicament Coach Billy Donovan and his team have put themselves in.
“We’ve probably lost a little respect from the fans,” junior guard Kenny Boynton conceded.
Of course, there’s another way to look at things.
“This is the best time of year,” UF assistant coach Matt McCall said. “And we have a chance to go to New Orleans and try to win a SEC championship.”
And there you go.
That ambitious quest will start Friday at 3:30 when the 22nd-ranked and fourth-seeded Gators (22-9) face fifth-seeded Alabama (21-10), which advanced into the tournament quarterfinals with 63-57 win over South Carolina in Thursday’s opening-round action at New Orleans Arena. Because the opponent had not been determined, UF used the last four days of practice mostly to focus on the things it needs to do better heading into postseason play.
In the three straight defeats -- which coincided with the loss of forward Will Yeguete to a season-ending broken foot -- the Gators have averaged just 62.6 points per game, shot only 39.8 percent from the floor, including 27.5 from the 3-point arc. If those offensive numbers aren’t alarming enough, consider these defensive ones: In those three games, opponents have averaged 75.6 points, shot a combined 52.6 percent, including 42.8 from the 3-point line, and the Gators have drawn just one charge (a Yeguete specialty).
Granted, Kentucky certainly skews those numbers, but from Donovan’s standpoint his team has some issues that need to be corrected regardless of who the next opponent might be.
“Like anything else, when you’re going into preparation and scouting for any team, there’s certain things you have to do in the game. You have to do them,” Donovan said. “There are musts in the game you have to do and then sometimes when you’re taking away certain things, you’re going to leave other things that are potentially open. Defensively, we’re giving up way, way too high of a percentage from the field and from the three-point line than we would like to.”
But things aren’t all bad, Donovan added.
“We also won 10 games in the league,” he said.
The Gators also had some encouraging stretches in the loss against Kentucky.
“I think we did a good job of competing, actually, [and] playing with a lot of effort,” freshman guard Bradley Beal said. “We had a few mistakes, but everybody is going to have breakdowns during a game. There was a time where we were coming back and everybody was having fun and playing with energy.”
The same could be said about the loss at Vanderbilt (which went a blistering 12-for-24 from the 3-point line and eventually fended off the Gators) prior to the UK game. The loss at struggling Georgia before that? Not so much.
Florida’s players will use the positives from the previous two games as postseason reference points to build on. Like what center Patric Young was able to do against Kentucky’s powerful frontcourt, scoring 21 points on 10-for-15 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds.
“The ball might not go in like it did that game, but I can bring the same intensity,” Young said.
UF is still trying to figure out its best options given the depth problems up front. Donovan remains intrigued by the potential of a lineup where sharp-shooting 6-foot-10 forward Erik Murphy slides to center -- and thus can stretch the defense by stepping out to the 3-point line -- alongside four guards, but that rotation can only go play so much at the expense of defense and rebounding -- and not if the Gators’ continue to shoot the ball poorly.
Then there’s the matter of tempo, which UF likes to force. Donovan wants a fast and chaotic pace, but that also requires the right personnel and depth, which Florida does not have now like it did earlier in the season with Yeguete.
Still, a faster game is better for the Gators.
“We need to start pushing the ball more,” Boynton said. “We haven’t pushed it lately, but that definitely makes it easier to get some baskets.”
For now, though, it’s about surviving and advancing. The Gators haven’t won a game in 17 days, but they’re looking ahead and focusing on what can happen rather than what already has.
“I think if you watched practice [this week], you wouldn’t have thought this was a team that had lost three games in a row,” Young said. “We have a mindset that we’re really committed to doing the right things and practicing the right way. Anything can happen this time of year.”
GATORS GAMEBOX - SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
No. 22 Florida vs. Alabama
Tip-off: Friday, 3:30 p.m. (New Orleans Arena, New Orleans)
Records: Florida 22-9; Alabama 21-10
TV: SEC Network (w/Brad Nessler, Jimmy Dykes and Shannon Spake)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 220/XM 199
Game notes: Florida notes;
Need to know: The Gators, by virtue of their 10-6 conference record during the regular season, earned one of the four byes into the second round of the tournament. ... The winner of the Florida-Alabama game will advance into tournament semifinals to face winner of 1 p.m. game pitting LSU vs. top-ranked, top-seeded Kentucky. ... UF has been formidable in the SEC Tournament of late, going 15-5 over the last eight seasons, including three tourney titles and five appearances in the final. ... Coach Billy Donovan is 20-12 in the SEC Tournament, with all three of the program’s championships on his watch (2005-07). ... UF won its regular-season meeting against Alabama, a 61-52 victory at Tuscaloosa in which the Crimson Tide played without 6-7 forward JaMychal Green (13.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg), who was suspended for violating team rules. Green has since been reinstated and the Tide have won five of six. ... Bama also is led by PG Trevor Releford (12 ppg, 47.4 percent), one of the better shooters on a team that is not a particularly good outside shooting team (28.5 percent from 3). They want to make the game a scrum around the basket, having led the SEC in scoring defense in allowing just 57.9 points per game. ... Florida, loser of three straight heading into postseason play, has all five starters averaging in double-figures, led by the three-man backcourt of Kenny Boynton (16.8 ppg), Bradley Beal (14.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and PG Erving Walker (12.4 ppg, 4.7 apg). UF’s frontcourt of C Patric Young and Erik Murphy combined to scored 35 points (on 14-for-24 shooting) and grab 17 rebounds in loss Sunday against Kentucky and its top-shelf frontline. ... Reserve F Casey Prather, who injured a lower back muscle earlier this week and missed three days of practice, returned to work Thursday and could be available to play today.