Gators looking for first road win at Gamecocks

The No. 19 Florida Gators head square off Saturday on the road against the South Carolina Gamecocks, playing in a true road game for the fifth time this season while still looking to pull out their first victory in such contests. Head coach Billy Donovan, senior point guard Erving Walker and sophomore center Patric Young met with the media on Friday to discuss some of their recent struggles and the upcoming contest before practicing and jumping on the plane to Columbia, SC.

STILL TRYING TO CURE FLORIDA’S ROAD WOES

Donovan knows what ails the Gators on the road but getting the team to correct those issues is another story. As is obvious to many fans who have watched Florida complete in true road contests, the Gators are struggling with their energy and intensity but also in three other areas: turnovers, shooting efficiency and defending field goals.

“The only thing that I can talk about is coaching our team and what we do, so I never want to take away anything from our opponent,” he said. “We played against obviously a very good Syracuse team, a very good Ohio State team, Rutgers is a very good team, Tennessee is a very good team. We’ve had four road games against four really good teams. And I don’t think South Carolina at home is any exception; I think they’re a good basketball team. As it relates to winning on the road, our guys got to learn. We have a lot of guys in situations for the first time going through something like this.

“There’s a learning process. As much as I want that to be expedited and sped up and have it all figured out, there are certain things they’ve got to get better at. When you go on the road and you do play against good teams, if you do turn it over, if you do shoot a real low percentage, if you do give up a high percentage, that’s a problem. If you look at our stat sheet on the road, teams have shot a very high percentage [.466] against us, we’ve turned the basketball over [17.3 per game], we have not shot a high percentage [.429]. [...] That’s not a formula on the road to really be able to win.”

If you compare those numbers to what Florida puts up in other games, the differences are apparent. The Gators shoot 48.9 percent on home/neutral courts, only give up 9.6 turnovers per contest and defend at a 40.0 percent clip.

There is one thing Florida does quite well away from home that Donovan is noticing.

“There is a level of persevering that goes on [while] on the road. There is a level of fortitude and an ability to handle the adversity when a team goes on a run, how you respond. The one positive that we have had on the road is we have had some level of resiliency where we have gotten down and we have fought back,” he said.

“Our resiliency and our fight is there; they have done that. Sometimes when you have a 40-minute game with turnovers, not a great shooting percentage, giving up things defensively that need to be taken away, sometimes that’s not the best formula to really put yourself in a true position to win. [...] It’s not like our team has been blown out by 25 points on the road and we’re just ways away from being competitive. We’ve been competitive; it’s just how do we find a way to get the result we want?”

PRACTICES A “LOSE-LOSE SITUATION”

Following Florida’s loss to Tennessee, Donovan swore that he would be increasing the intensity of practices in order for his team to understand how vital defense and a focused mentality are in every single game. The Gators responded, playing much better against Georgia on Tuesday, and say they are just as focused for their fifth true road game of the season on Saturday.

Walker, the only senior and the single player on the team who has spent four years under Donovan, knew that Florida was in for some trouble after dropping the contest in Knoxville, TN. “I know when [those hard practices] are coming,” he joked. “Being around him for a couple years now, I’m pretty much used to it.”

He said that “Coach D has been pretty much handing it to us in practice, but we accept the result” even though the tough practices will not be stopping if the Gators pull out a victory. “It might make it worse now because he’ll think that works, so he’ll keep doing it,” he joked. “We have a lose-lose situation.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on if Young is more careless than some other players in practice (in regards to hurting teammates): “I give our team a lot of credit. I think probably Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons being older, veteran guys, they probably did a good job of moving away from him in a lot of situations. [Laughing] The one thing that I really admire about Cody Larson is every single day he gets beaten up physically. Every day he goes in there. Will Yeguete, he gets beaten up. I think they do that because they understand that’s going to make our team better, that’s going to make Patric better.”

» Young on if he is worried that he’s knocking around his teammates: “I feel kind of bad at first, but once I see they’re OK, it’s just part of the game.”

» Donovan on keeping in touch with former players in the NBA and how proud he is of them: “[Thursday] I talked to [Joakim] Noah and [Al] Horford. Obviously I felt bad for Al and his injury, being out for as long as he is. I had a good talk with Jo; he’s having some issues with his hand. I talk to those guys, I wouldn’t say on a regular basis, but I do reach out to them and do communicate with them. For someone like Chandler, I’m really proud of him because of where he was as a freshman and sophomore and what he went through here and then at the level he’s at now. Hopefully here at Florida, the experience that he had here as a player, prepared him for that next step in his life as a player. It’s encouraging to see a guy that got taken in the second round has started some games and done well. Same thing with Vernon.

“As much as I want the process – and believe me I’m constantly force-feeding these guys because as you look at their perspective in life, I only have them for a short period of time. For Vernon it was three years. Chandler was four. Joakim, Al, Corey it was three. What you’re trying to do is try to, in a lot of ways, create an epiphany for them, where there’s things they see in life that maybe alters or changes the way they view things when you see their view of things is not going to help them down the road. I’m just happy that the guys that have been fortunate enough to play at that level, that those guys through the experience here have been prepared to take on the next step in their life. Not only winning games, I think that is also a large part of my job here as a coach, to try and help those guys in that area.”

» Walker on if he is thinking about how the end of his career is approaching: “It hit me. I understand that. Right now I’m just focusing on the season and trying to enjoy each game as it goes.”

» Walker on being in the top-10 all-time in scoring at UF: “That’s not really a big deal. Just being here for four years kind of helps you out in that category.”

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