Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Florida Gators were working Thursday on late-game situations -- a phase that’s been some of a topic of conversation lately -- when forward Casey Prather, playing with the blue team, drove baseline with the 35-second shot clock set to expire and the game clock ticking down to 10 seconds.
Though open, Prather was probably a hair too far from the basket when he launched for the rim.
He missed the dunk.
The orange team grabbed the rebound, funneled the ball up the floor and DeVon Walker made a layup just before the horn.
Billy Donovan was understandably less than pleased.
When Donovan talks about “staying in the moment,” these are the kinds of moments he’s talking about. Just a split-second lapse in concentration can mean the game, as it did with a sequence of such instances in Arizona.
That’s why locking in at practice is so paramount, especially when heading on the road again, although the schedule designates Saturday night’s date with Kansas State as a neutral-site game.
“Yeah, right,” UF junior center Patric Young said.
The K-State campus is 120 miles from the Sprint Center in Kansas City, which is actually in Missouri, for what that’s worth. Young’s point is taken, though. After all, when UF plays in Jacksonville or Tampa or next week in Sunrise (where Florida and Kansas State met in 2010) the games are considered “neutral,” as well.
But for eighth-ranked Florida (8-1), the meeting with scrappy K-State (8-2) will be defined more by how the Gators react to situations -- and play through them -- as opposed to reacting to the environment.
In flying across the country last weekend, Florida handled the hostilities of McKale Center very well -- for all but two minutes or so. Unfortunately for the Gators, crammed into those two-plus minutes were a multitude of special situations the players handled, frankly, abysmally and paid dearly for it.
Now, six days later, the Gators get to board another jet and fly halfway across the country to find out what they learned from their loss in the desert.
“What ends up happening, the energy of the crowd feeds into a team’s run,” Donovan said. “When there’s a run, you have to be able to quiet the crowd or answer whatever they’re doing.”
UF wasn’t good at that in Tucson last week.
Or in Gainesville at practice Thursday.
“That’s why we have to keep working on it,” Donovan said.
On the Prather dunk, for example, instead of watching the fallout of the play, each player needed to default into his defensive assignment. The point guard needed to race back and balance the floor. The two-guard needed to do the same thing. The small forward and center needed to crash the offensive glass.
It’s no different when the Gators have the ball in those situations. There are assignments to execute and they have to be second-nature responses. Take, for example, in-bounds plays (another topical subject, by the way). Those are about getting open against glue-like defense, which may require a second or third break when the first option isn’t there.
Watching accomplishes nothing, other than giving an edge to the opponent.
And with regard to Kansas State, another well-coached, sound opponent -- 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard Rodney McGruder might be the best player the Gators have faced this season -- that will seize on openings (and lapses) and take advantage of them. Especially in a “neutral” home environment.
Heck, they’re even called the Wildcats (like Arizona).
“We want to be known as a bunch of junkyard dogs,” Young said.
Part of that is killer instinct, a trait that needs to rear itself with intensity when the clock is winding down.
“We just have to finish the game,” freshman guard Michael Frazier II said. “We have to do a better job as a team of closing the game out, that what Coach D says. We have to keep focusing practice on securing the ball, taking care of the ball.”
A trip to the Midwest should be another good test.
“Hopefully, they’ve learned something from [last week],” Donovan said. “Every game is different in the challenges. I do think that game can make us better.”
No. 8 Florida vs. Kansas State
Tip-off: Saturday, 8 p.m. (Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.)
Records: Florida 8-1; Arizona 8-2
TV: ESPN2 (w/Mitch Holthus and Fran Fraschilla)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199
Game notes: Florida notes; Kansas State notes
Need to know: The game is a “neutral-site” return from when the Gators and Wildcats met Dec. 18, 2010 at Sunrise, Fla., where UF prevailed 57-44 in the lone all-time meeting between the two programs. ... This is Florida’s last game before breaking for Christmas and returning next weekend for the renewal of their Orange Bowl-sponsored visits to Sunrise, where the Gators will play Air Force on Dec. 29. ... UF ranks first in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 49.6 points per game and is the only team in the country giving up less than 50 points per game. ... Four of Florida’s five starters are averaging in double-figures, but it’s the numbers within the numbers that people are talking about right now. Senior G Mike Rosario (12.9 ppg) is now UFs’ leading scorer, having averaged 16.7 points on 61-percent shooting, including 57 percent (8-for-14) from the 3-point line, over the last three games. Meanwhile, senior G Kenny Boynton (12.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg) is struggling mightily with his shot, hitting just 22.4 percent (9-for-40) and 11.1 percent (3-for-27) from the arc. UF coach Billy Donovan has urged Boynton, the No. 5 scorer in school history with 1,702 points, to play through his shooting woes by doing other things to help the team win. ... Backup G Scottie Wilbekin has been remarkably efficient. Since returning from a suspension to start the season, the junior has hit 48 percent of his field goals, including 48 from 3-point range (12 of 25), grabbed three rebounds a game and carded 29 assists to just nine turnovers. ... K-State is led by G Rodney McGruder (13.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg), a Washington-area player who transferred to Jacksonville (Fla.) Arlington Country Day High and helped lead the program to a state championship as a senior. ... Keep an eye also on Wildcats PG Angel Rodriguez (10.7 ppg, 4.4 apg) and F Thomas Gipson (7.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg). ... K-State is coached by Bruce Weber, who led Illinois to seven 20-win seasons, including the 2005 NCAA championship game (a 75-70 loss to North Carolina). Weber succeeded Frank Martin, now coach at South Carolina. ... The Wildcats are allowing opponents just 39.1-percent shooting from the floor and 26.3 from 3-point range. ... KSU’s two losses have come against unbeaten Michigan (71-57 in the NIT Tip-off) and Gonzaga in a “neutral site” date in Seattle. Those two teams are currently second and 14th, respectively. The wins have come against low- to mid-majors: Washburn, Emporia State, North Dakota, Lamar, Alabama-Huntsville, North Florida, Delaware, USC Upstate, George Washington and Texas Southern.