|No. 2/2 FLORIDA GATORS||ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS|
|Head Coach: Billy Donovan||Head Coach: Mike Anderson|
|Record: 18-2 (8-0 SEC)||Record: 13-8 (4-4 SEC)|
|Conference: Southeastern||Conference: Southeastern|
Location: Bud Walton Arena – Fayetteville, AR [Capacity: 19,200]
Time: 7:05 p.m. EST
TV: ESPN/ESPNHD (Brad Nessler, Jimmy Dykes, Shannon Spake)
SiriusXM: 91 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter and SportsYapper app
Odds: Florida -11.5 | O/U 140
QUICK TURNAROUND IN A TOUGH ENVIRONMENT
Donovan is known as being no fan of the three-day turnaround during SEC play but that is exactly what the Gators and Razorbacks both have leading into their game on Tuesday evening. “It’s always different when you have a quick turnaround like this,” he said. “You just have to deal with that. We’ve got two legitimate days to prepare, as does Arkansas. … So, we’re both dealing with the same thing with the Saturday-Tuesday.”
While the prep time may be the same for both squads, nothing else will be equal on Tuesday. UF is looking like one of the best teams in the country and heads into Fayetteville on a 10-game winning streak, it’s longest since the middle of the 2008-09 season. The hosts, while not necessarily having a great season, have been playing fantastic at home. The Razorbacks have won 10-straight in the friendly confines (4-0 in SEC play) with an average margin of victory of 17.6 points in those contests.
“The biggest thing you look at is the field goal percentage, the offensive numbers are different. I think that’s not abnormal. Most teams shoot the ball at home better than they do on the road but those numbers are drastically different,” Donovan said Monday. “Winning on the road is really hard. It’s really hard to do. There’s probably a comfort level and a confidence level for those guys, playing in Fayetteville. It’s a unique and really a great environment, which I’m sure they enjoy very much. I think most teams feel a little bit different when they play at home.”
Florida is also in the middle of a a scheduling oddity with Arkansas and will be playing in Bud Walton Arena for three-straight seasons despite only seeing the Razorbacks in Gainesville, FL once (Feb. 23, 2013).
“With the expansion, the scheduling has gotten a little different. Last year, we played them because we had 16 [games] in the league. This year, we’re in a home-and-home with them and we’ll play them twice. Next year, we have to go back to Arkansas. We’re going to play in Fayetteville three times in relation to them coming here once [in three years],” Donovan explained. “Because of the off-set schedule, that’s a little bit unique and a little bit different. I think Bud Walton is a great place to play. They have great fans, good enthusiasm and a good environment. I’m sure there will be a great crowd in there. Our guys have gone into that building, they know what to expect. They know how it is in there and [Arkansas] plays very, very well at home as the stats and records show. They are exceptionally a very good home team.”
COMMITMENT TO (DEFENSIVE) EXCELLENCE
All three times under Donovan that the Gators have advanced to the Final Four, stellar defense has been the team’s calling card. Sure, those Florida squads were also proficient offensively and featured some of the best scorers in program history, but the dedication and commitment to excellence on the defensive end fueled those runs. Donovan addressed that fact on Monday and explained how this year’s team stacks up defensively.
“We don’t have the same depth as in 2000, and we don’t have the same shot-blocking as in 2006. But getting our guys to understand the ability that they have to help each other in certain areas on the floor, I think we’ve done much better in that area. I also think, trying to get these guys to understand positioning on the floor. That is so crucial. Just little, subtle things,” he said. “When the ball moves and the floor moves, us being in the right position. Us understanding the importance that against any defense, dribble penetration, paint touches, offensive rebounds ultimately destroy your defense. So we’ve done a better job not giving those same things up. I also think that we’ve got some more talented, so to speak, better defenders, athletically. … You always have that commitment there. I think because our guys have defended well, you get more excited about playing defense. Listen, I’ve said this before, most teams always enjoy playing offense more than they enjoy playing defense. Our guys, I think, have understood the value of playing good defense.”
One reason why Donovan has had successful defensive teams is the way he goes about teaching it to his players. Rather than making defense a chore that he forces down his players’ throats, he helps them understand that it is of paramount importance to playing winning basketball and requires the same team effort that it takes to succeed offensively.
“Defense to me is no different than offense,” he said. “Offense doesn’t work unless you have five guys collectively, cohesively moving, sharing the basketball, screening, spacing. It’s the same thing on defense. You could do a great job on a screening action, but if the help is not where it needs to be, you are going to eventually get hurt. I think our guys have done a much better job of what we would call ‘helping the help.’ … You’re moving pieces and parts around the floor that they have to understand the rotations on certain things and that takes time. That is not something that just instinctively happens. That takes time to really understand that and see that.”
NOTES ON QUOTES
» Florida is 15-10 all-time against Arkansas (15-5 under Donovan) but just 4-7 on the road in Fayetteville (4-4 under Donovan). The Gators have won five-straight against the Razorbacks overall.
» On senior guard Kenny Boynton’s flexibility and improved passing: “What ends up happening so many times are when these guys are coming out of high school, there is so much hype, there is so much exposure, there is so much publicity. Kenny clearly was one of the best high school players coming out. I think a lot of the times people just think, ‘It’s going to take me a year or two and then I’ll be in the NBA.’ It doesn’t work like that. A lot of the NBA stuff is size for position, length, athleticism, jumping. It’s got nothing to do with your game sometimes. I think for Kenny being such a prolific scorer, his whole focus was just on scoring. To his credit, I think he has matured; he has grown as a player. I think he is finally getting an understanding that he can really impact the game in a lot of different ways. It’s the first time in his career that he had 10 assists. I think right now he has the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the SEC [in league play]. That’s a credit to him looking at how he can help our team, how he can get better. He has recognized that. I’m not so sure Kenny Boynton could have done that as a freshman. I don’t think he had the mindset to do that. Through experience and going through what he is going through, he has become a very good decision maker and he has made other people on the floor better.”
» On how senior forward Erik Murphy has progressed over the last two seasons: “He’s gotten better in and around the basket where he’s expanded his game a little bit more. I think last year he was such a perimeter-oriented big guy, stretching and shooting threes. I think now he’s gotten much better playing in and around the basket, scoring around the basket so I’ve got confidence in Erik when the ball is in his hands of him scoring when he gets the ball in certain areas of the floor. He’s got to continue to do a better job of passing the basketball and trying to recognize when Patric [Young] is open and getting him the ball maybe a little better than he’s doing. But offensively I think Erik’s played very well for us.”
» On making shooters feel confident with the ball in their hands: “Whether it’s [Michael] Frazier, Murphy or any of these guys when they’re open they need to shoot the basketball. I mean Erik Murphy is shooting over 50 percent from the three point line so when he’s open it helps our team and stretches the defense. I told those guys during one timeout [on Saturday] because we had missed nine three-point shots and I knew it was [wearing] on them a little bit, I just told them we needed to keep shooting the ball when we’re open and shoot the ball with confidence. Then we had a stretch there where we made three in a row: [Mike] Rosario made one, then Scottie Wilbekin made one and Murphy made one and we pushed the lead back out. So I have confidence in Boynton, Rosario, Scottie, Murphy and Michael Frazier. When those guys are open, they need to shoot the ball with confidence.”
» Boynton (2.8) and Wilbekin (2.6) are respectively ranked 21st and 25th nationally (as well as second and third in the SEC) for the season in assist-to-turnover ratio. Boynton has a 5.8 assist-to-turnover ratio in SEC play, far above any other player.
» On freshmen not playing much due to experience in the rotation: “Our freshmen are in a situation where you have a fifth-year senior in Mike Rosario; you got a junior in Scottie Wilbekin; you got Kenny Boynton, a four-year starter; at the small forward spot you got [Casey] Prather or Rosario. They are overwhelmed sometimes with a lack of experience, so to speak, that they will get to a crossroads to say, ‘Am I going to fight and keep getting better?’ That is one thing I have respected about this freshman group. Although they haven’t played significant minutes, they come in every single day and try to work and get better. I think that they can see the bigger picture. A lot of time guys can’t see the bigger picture because they have never gone through any adversity at all.”
» On why junior F Will Yeguete is a quality rebounder: “There are certain guys that just have that knack and ability to get their hands on balls, to read rebounding. He is an instinctively a very good rebounder because he can rebound out of his area. … In a lot of ways the better rebounders never let guys that are blocking them out get into their hips. They just have an ability to keep some space away from their legs and, even though there may be some upper-body contact, they still have the ability to move their hips and their legs to get into positions to rebound the ball. The other thing too is when the floor is moving, he gets a run at the basket, and he can move around people. That is where he is really effective. He is a hard guy to get a body on. … Guys that don’t rebound the ball well or guys that you anticipate being a good rebounder, a lot of times guys get into their legs and they can’t move and they allow that contact to get into them low. Really good rebounders never let that happen. They can really get away and eliminate a lot of contact on the body. Some guys are just gifted like that. They just have it. … Will, even though he has got that ability, he does make a really good effort to go after those loose balls, go after those kind of rebounds, keep balls alive, deflect balls, and do those things. A lot of it is something that he has been blessed with.”