Location: Memorial Gym – Nashville, Tennessee [Capacity: 14,316]
Time: 9:00 p.m. EST
SiriusXM: 92/191 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
|FLORIDA GATORS||VANDERBILT COMMODORES|
|Head Coach: Billy Donovan||Head Coach: Kevin Stallings|
|Record: 12-9 (5-3 SEC)||Record: 11-10 (1-7 SEC)|
|Conference: Southeastern||Conference: Southeastern|
Odds: Florida -2
SHOOTING WOES HAMSTRING PROGRESS
No matter how much the Gators improve defensively, ultimately the game of basketball requires, well, the ball being put in the basket. And to that end, Florida has been quite terrible this season.
The Gators are averaging 66.2 points per game, the 207th most in the nation, while checking in at 126th nationally in field goal percentage (.444). Over its last two games, both victories, Florida has combined to make 29-of-60 two-point field goals. Donovan pointed out on Monday that in UF’s embarrassing home loss to LSU, the hosts went 0-for-24 on shots inside the lane.
When it comes to attempts inside the arc, the Gators do not shoot many mid-range jumpers. Florida attacks the lane, cleans up around the basket and misses a larger percentage of those attempts than it should. Donovan, of course, has noticed.
“Calling it like it is, there wasn’t a shot that I really wasn’t necessarily overly disappointed with. I thought the finishing part was really bad,” he said of UF’s effort in its win over Arkansas. “We’ve spent time the last couple days on practicing, trying to work on finishing around the basket. And obviously we continue to work on shooting and those kinds of things, but there is a streakiness to us.”
The streakiness exists within individual contests and stretches of games. This is how the Gators’ schedule has gone since late November: back-to-back losses, four-straight wins, back-to-back losses, three-straight wins, three consecutive losses, back-to-back wins.
That is enough to drive a coach mad. In Donovan’s case, though he still carries that winning fire in his belly, the grey hairs overtaking most of his dome have come with more patience and understanding. As he’s mentioned often, he expected Florida to struggle this year, so seeing what has happened as of late is something he has taken in relative stride.
“I think eight or 10 years ago it would have been a little more frustrating than it is now,” he explained. “I have said it from the beginning: their attitude and their work ethic [is great] – they are great kids. Do they do some things that drive me nuts? Yeah, but so do my own kids.
“There is a part of me, as a parent even, that you got to basically stick with them. It’s not like you can say, ‘You are not living up to my expectations,’ to one of my kids, ‘so we are going to trade you out and bring another kid in.’ That is the process [here]. I feel really responsible to that part of it. … We are not an overly-talented team. We are a team with a group of really good kids who listen and are coachable and I think can get better. As much as I want them to be better now, there is a process they have to go through.”
One player very much going through that process is junior guard Michael Frazier II, who after setting a school record by draining a three-pointer in 41 consecutive games is 0-for-9 beyond the arc over his last two contests (2-for-13 from the field overall).
“Clearly for us, a guy like Michael Frazier opens things up for us when he has shot the ball well for us, and the last two games in particular he has not had it,” noted Donovan. “He struggled with his hip at Alabama and then coming back against Arkansas he was healthy, but he just really didn’t have a great shooting game at all. He got up a bunch of shots, but he just didn’t make a lot of them.”
Frazier will likely come around for the Gators, but the rest of the team still has a ways to go both on learning how to execute offense and play together as a cohesive unit.
While explaining how he’s having some of his larger players guard the rim during practice, forcing the guards and forwards to work on their angles to the hoop, positioning and how to finish their shots, Donovan wound up making a statement that serves well on its own as an overall theme of Florida’s 2014-15 season to this point.
“[Sometimes] they make it a lot more difficult than it needs to be.”
HISTORY, STATS AND STREAKS
» Vanderbilt is 64-62 all-time against Florida, though the Gators are 24-12 against the Commodores under Donovan. UF has struggled when playing at VU with a 17-44 record in Nashville (8-9 under Donovan).
» A long-running SEC basketball rivalry that consisted of a home-and-home series in 47 consecutive seasons, Florida and Vanderbilt have not played twice in the same campaign since 2011-12. UF has won six of its last seven games against VU.
» Last week, the Gators ended a three-game losing streak, their first since the end of the 2011-12 season.
» Florida is one defeat away from being on the receiving end of double-digit losses for the first time since 2011-12. In the last 16 seasons, Donovan has only lost 10+ games five times.
» The Gators were 86-10 over the last three seasons when holding opponents under 71 points in a game; UF is 11-5 this season when doing so.
» Florida has put forward 10 different starting lineups in 21 regular-season games, using its current starting five in three-straight contests. Overall, 10 players have started at least one game for UF this season.
» The Gators learned to win close games last season, going 15-2 in contests decided by single digits; Florida is 5-6 in such affairs this season.
» UF is on pace for 18 wins in the regular season while looking for its 17th consecutive season with 20+ victories. Florida’s 16-straight campaigns with that many wins is the longest streak in the SEC and fifth-longest nationally. Only eight coaches have ever won 20+ games in 14+ consecutive seasons.
INJURIES AND ABSENCES
» Out (2): Sophomore center John Egbunu (transfer – season), freshman G Brandone Francis (academics – season)
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan on Vanderbilt: “From an offensive standpoint, they’re pretty balanced. … They’ve got a great home court advantage. They have such a dominant low post player in [Damian] Jones, and the stuff that Kevin [Stallings] runs offensively, where he puts Jones in some real good situations where he can post up and do some things around the basket, [benefits the team]. If you don’t help correctly, you don’t rotate correctly from him, you leave yourself vulnerable to giving up threes. … It’s been pretty considerable, from behind the three-point line. … So they’ve got a mixture of inside-out that they can really play out of, and I would say for the most part they’re a team that’s pretty dominant, wanting to go inside to Jones.”
» Donovan on Memorial Gym being such a unique venue: “We will have plenty of time with shootarounds and those kinds of things to get acclimated to the place. … There is a familiarity there for some of our guys. But I think we will have plenty of time to prepare and get used to the building.”
» Donovan on whether sophomore center Chris Walker deciding to turn pro would surprise him: “All those things and those kind of decisions, I really don’t deal with them right now. I’m sure over the years, different guys that have been here that have been in a position that Chris [Walker] has [been in now]. It’s been on their mind and they’ve thought about it. I try to talk to Chris in terms of anything that may be in the way of him performing and playing. I think I need to address those kinds of things. But I always think [we should address it] at the end of the year; during the year, it’s all about our team. Once the year ends, it gets back to the individuals in terms of what’s best for them and what they want to do. Whatever decision Chris wants to make or doesn’t want to make at the end of the year, I’m going to support him. I certainly supported him when he came here, and if he made a decision after the year was over to leave, I would support him there too.”