Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Billy Donovan's long day at the office started early Sunday morning. At noon, his players arrived and were forced to watch a really long film session to review their latest late-game collapse. After that, together they went through a practice really long on basics and fundamentals.
It's going to be a long week.
"I don't like our fire, I don't like our intensity right now," Donovan said Monday.
That's unfortunate, given the time of year.
The Southeastern Conference Tournament starts Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn., with the 13th-ranked Gators (24-6) seeded No. 1 and with byes through the first two rounds. On Friday, they'll face either eighth-seeded Georgia (15-15) or ninth-seeded LSU (19-10) in a 1 p.m. quarterfinal, then come what may from the weekend await their NCAA Tournament assignment, seeding and site on Sunday.
Somewhere along the way, Donovan -- better yet, his players -- need to gather some proverbial wood, douse it with proverbial gasoline and rediscover that not-so-proverbial fire the Gators had on display during a dominant midseason run that vaulted them to No. 2 in the polls.
It's been missing for a while now.
"The way we started the past couple games, I think we should do a better job just coming out and being excited and being ready to play," junior forward Will Yeguete said. "We've been missing that."
More topical Monday than how UF has started games was how the Gators have finished games; particularly the Kentucky game (no points in the final seven-plus minutes to blow a seven-point lead), which had a lot in common with the Missouri game last month (up by 13, but outscored 27-11 in final 11 minutes), which felt an awful lot like the Arizona game in December (outscored 7-0 in the final 58 seconds to lose by one).
Donovan spent the wee hours of Sunday morning crunching the numbers (and video) of those three games and, not so surprisingly, found a common denominator.
In those trio of games, UF turned it over 14, 14 and 12 times, respectively; or 40 times total. For a team that averages 11.1 turnovers of a game that may not seem like an alarming number.
But in the crunch-time stages of those games -- the combined 21 minutes when Arizona, Mizzou and UK made their inevitable runs -- Florida's ball-security operated at a ratio of three assists to 19 turnovers.
When the Gators had to be buttoned-up on the details, they were at their loosest and most careless, instead.
The word "choke" was tossed Donovan's way Monday.
"For me, what that word means is in the moment you're afraid and you don't want it or you shy away from it," he said. "I don't get that from our team. If anything, I see maybe an overconfidence or 'We're going to be OK' kind of thing."
To be OK, the Gators will need to do more than clean up that carelessness with the ball.
In splitting the final six games, UF averaged 62.6 points, compared to 75.6 through the first two-thirds of the SEC season. Not once during that stretch has Florida hit the 17-to-23 assist benchmark Donovan seeks, and twice in the last three games the Gators had a measly seven (against Alabama) and eight assists (at Kentucky).
That's not, in Florida basketball vernacular, "playing the right way."
Oh, and there's also a rebounding issue.
"A major problem," Donovan said.
The Gators have been out-rebounded in four of the last six games (and stalemated one other). Kentucky won the glass 40-34, with UF"s 6-foot-9, 260-pound post player Patric Young coming away with just two rebounds; none in the second half.
"When you see our starting center with two rebounds in 24 minutes that's clearly an effort issue," Donovan said.
Translation: an intensity issue, a fire issue.
Young isn't the only player that needs to ignite. This needs to be an across-the-board inferno that blazes on both ends.
Starting Tuesday, the Gators have just three more days of practice to find the burning desire that was there when the team was at its best.
Some of that -- the positive elements of the season -- will be emphasized the next few days, another very difficult loss that externally is overshadowing just the sixth regular-season SEC championship in school history.
"There's got to be both sides," Donovan said. "We're going to be in that [close game] situation again, no doubt about it. How will we respond? I don't know. [But] what happened in the past doesn't mean it's going to happen again."