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Monday December 17, 2012Back to Work: Gators Hope to Learn from Loss at Arizona

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Normally, Sunday would have been a day off, but there was very little normal about what happened Saturday.

Somewhere about 30,000 or so feet over New Mexico, Texas or maybe Louisiana, Billy Donovan decided his Florida Gators were going to practice the next day, with the gut-wrenching ills of that 65-64 loss at Arizona still fresh in everyone's minds.

This wasn't about punishment. Not at all. This was about processing the disappointment and putting it to use as the Gators (7-1), who fell from fifth to eighth in the Associated Press Top 25 poll Monday, move forward with their season, starting with Wednesday night's date against Southeastern Louisiana (1-7) at the O'Connell Center.

"Obviously, that was a very painful and difficult loss. To travel all the way across the country and have to come all the way back and get back here at 7 in the morning ... that was tough," Donovan said after practice Monday afternoon. "But I think through struggle and pain you find out how important this all is to you, and how good you want to be."

That means more than focusing on finishing halves or on inbounding the ball or pressure-packed free throws, all of which were at the heart of defeat in Tucson.

The Gators blew 11-point leads in both halves (outscored 8-0 to end the first and 7-0 to end the second), committed three turnovers in the final minute, with senior guard and leading scorer Kenny Boynton, a 90-percent free-throw shooter, clanging the front end of a one-and-one with 21.5 seconds to go and a chance to could put UF up by three.

"We played hard, but we have to play even harder and smarter," Boynton said. "We have to play 40 minutes and finish the game."

In a meeting Sunday night, Donovan and his staff poured over tape with their players -- and not just the ends of the halves. There were plenty of examples of lapses in the other 38 or so minutes of the game that helped set the table for the Wildcats to stage their furious rally and make bedlam of the McKale Center.

The post-game focus and analysis zeroed in mostly on the inability to get the ball in bound and resulting turnovers, but as Donovan pointed out, what about UF's inability to stop the Wildcats from scoring after those gaffes?

No, this heart-to-heart talk Sunday night was about a much bigger picture.

In that meeting, more than once, Donovan held his thumb and index finger about three inches apart.

"The difference between being good and great can be just this much," he said.

In several instances back in the desert, it may have been three feet, but the players got the point.

In defensive spacing, if UF's guards had packed in three feet closer to the lane, maybe Solomon Hill doesn't drive the alley for a layup with 44 seconds to go. Or if Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy are spaced properly in the halfcourt off the pick and roll, maybe that extra room leads to a better shot. Or if, say, Boynton comes to the inbound pass (like a wide receiver coming back for a pass) or if Scottie Wilbekin uses two (even three) moves to shake his defensive player for a clean look at his hands, maybe the ball comes in play cleanly and Arizona has to foul.

Or maybe not.

But the chances of success in those moments are a lot better when executed with consistency at practice.

"The discipline of doing it the right way over and over and over is critical to our development to become great," Donovan said. "And you know what? Even if we do all that stuff, we still might lose. But I do know it gives us a better chance, and that's the beauty of competing. You put your heart and soul into it and in this struggle you may never get there ... but you find out a lot about yourselves."

After the game Saturday, Boynton (2-for-10 overall, 1-for-6 from 3-point range) and Murphy (5 turnovers), a pair of seniors, were practically inconsolable in the locker room. The loss hurt the two badly and both turned blame toward themselves.

But there were plenty of guilt to spread around.

Just like there's plenty of time to bounce back.

"You have to be focused and committed on every possession. When you're not, well, this stuff can happen, especially against a good team," Murphy said. "It could be a blessing in disguise. You never know your weaknesses until they're exposed. Well, ours we're exposed and hopefully, in the long run, it'll help us out."

"All it took was a couple of mistakes to make the difference between a win and a loss," Boynton said. "Coach is right. The difference between being good and great isn't that much."

Apparently, the message from that meeting sunk in.

Whether the lessons of the inbounds practice afterward took hold, that remains to be seen.

"This could be a great, great catapulting thing for them, in terms of realizing the importance of how fragile this all can be," Donovan said. "We all made mistakes the other night. Now we're going to see how we respond to them."

 

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