With the No. 9/13 Florida Gators (9-2) set to play their final non-conference game of the regular season (and first game of the new year) on the road against the Yale Bulldogs (5-10) on Sunday, head coach Billy Donovan met with the media Friday to discuss his team’s issues and how certain players can improve.
FIXING THE GATORS
The Gators have had more than a full week since their last game, giving Donovan and the coaching staff plenty of time to get the team ready for their road contest against the Bulldogs. Though Florida won its showdown against Air Force on Dec. 29, the team is 2-2 over its last four games and has been reeling after starting the season on fire. Donovan addressed the downswing and noted that the extra practice has been just what the Gators needed.
“This has been really good…for at least myself,” he said with a wry grin. “I think for our guys it’s been pretty demanding. I think any time that you’re in a situation where there’s no school and there’s no time constraints, really in a lot of ways you’re in a position where you have unlimited time to work and get better. … It’s been a good opportunity to break things down and try to show our guys areas where we got to get better.”
Asked what he has emphasized over the break, Donovan pointed to efficiency on the defensive end and unselfishness on offense.
“Clearly our defensive numbers are not what they were earlier in the year. I think when you look at that, for me, I’m not looking at it so much in terms of field goal percentage or three-point field goal percentage but what is our defensive efficiency rating? How many points are we giving up per possession? Generally you give up a lot of points when you foul and put teams to the free throw line and you give up three-point shots,” he said. “We’ve had some slippage there defensively that we need to get better.
“I also think offensively our ability to understand how to utilize each other and make the right decision, the right play. We are still getting guys down the lane, in the paint, which is where we want, but they’ve got to make the right read to see who’s open and make those passes to one another to make the game easier for one another. ”
Senior guard Kenny Boynton is one player who thinks the extra practice has paid off for Florida. “I think we’ve turned our intensity up in practices. We’ve been going two-a-days, so as a team we’ve been addressing the weaknesses we have. As a team we’ve gotten better, we just have to translate it to the game,” he said.
Read the rest of this post…after the break!
Before somewhat breaking out of his slump last weekend, when he went 3-for-7 from downtown and 3-for-3 from the line for 14 points with four rebounds and three assists, Boynton had been marred in a major slump. He was 13-of-51 (.255) from the field and 4-of-32 (.125) from downtown over the previous five games, and his inefficiency played a role in both of the team’s losses.
Donovan said Friday that Boynton did everything his coaching staff asked of him over the break and has hopefully emerged as a player set to take his game to the next level.
“I think his attitude has been really good. Kenny has always been kind of a quiet guy. I think he’s come out of his shell quite a bit to really invest in his teammates, really spend time with those guys,” he said.
“I think the biggest thing with Kenny right now is getting him to understand that over 60 percent of his shots are threes. When you’re a team that’s scouting Kenny Boynton, the first thing you’re saying is, ‘This guy, 60 percent of his shots are three-point shots.’ He’s gonna have to do some different things to open up the three-point game for himself, so to speak. When you become one-dimensional like that, you become a lot more predictable to guard. That’s the first thing.
“The second thing is if he’ll play a little bit more in the lane, shot fake, get in the lane and drive a little bit more, a guy that’s getting 2.5-2.7 assists, I think you’ll see his assists go up. I think if he can just focus on doing those things, I think that will free him up to do a lot more. In some of these games, he has been somewhat one-dimensional.”
Boynton concurred with his coach and noted that he is ready to get back on the court and regain his form. “I’m just trying to find my teammates and knock down open shots, take good shots. And when I get into the lane, finish more,” he said.
HOMECOMING FOR MURPHY
Senior forward Erik Murphy will be playing in front of dozens of family members and friends on Sunday as they are all set to jump on a bus and take a trip to New Haven, CT that will last just over an hour and 20 minutes.
Florida has set home a two-for-one series with Yale and will be playing its second game in that series. For Murphy, being able to play so close to home has been something he’s been anticipating.
“It’s exciting to see some people at the game that I haven’t seen in a while. It’s cool to have them all come down,” he said. “It’s really nice. Coach is really good about getting seniors games close to home for them. Most guys are somewhere close to Florida or in Florida. Going back up there, it’s exciting.”
Donovan spent some time Friday talking about Murphy and how he has grown as a player during his time with the Gators.
“Last year he kind of came into his own. He got better. I think he got more confident. Probably towards the end of his sophomore year he started to show the ability to step away from the basket and shoot it. Didn’t get a chance to do that a whole lot his freshman year,” he said. “I have a hard time believing there’s many better three-point shooters at that power forward spot than he is.”
Murphy has put in plenty of work to get to this point but also had to bide his time on the end of the bench while a number of top-flight players saw minutes ahead of him.
“It obviously took a level of patience also combined with I wasn’t good enough then to play a lot of minutes. It was a combination of both of those things,” he said. “In that situation, with those guys in front of me, obviously I had to be patient and wait my turn.”
Now in his final year with the team, Murphy is averaging nearly 26 minutes a game along with career-high averages in points (12.1 points), rebounds (4.7), assists (1.5), steals (0.5) and three-point shooting (.452). Yet while he is making a bigger dent on the stat sheet, Donovan is more impressed with Murphy’s overall team-first mentality.
“Erik is very unselfish. Erik is one of those guys that will always sacrifice for the benefit of the team. If less of Erik means more for our team, he’s always going to do that,” he said. “He’s never been a guy, since I’ve been here, that has ever displayed anything else but whatever is best for the team.
“A lot of team players can talk that winning is really important but the winning, when it becomes part of them having to sacrifice minutes or points or things like that, then maybe the winning part of it doesn’t become so important anymore. I don’t think Erik has ever had that philosophy or attitude. He’s always been about the bigger picture. I always felt like he was like that as a kid, even when he was in high school.”
No longer a kid, Murphy’s college career is finally coming to a close just as the door to his future as a professional basketball player is about to swing open.