Gameday: Florida Gators vs. Ole Miss Rebels – Season-ending catalyst or nail in the coffin?

By Adam Silverstein
February 12, 2015

Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, Florida [Capacity: 11,548]
Time: 7:00 p.m. EST

TV: ESPN (Joe Tessitore, Sean Farnham)
Streaming Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app

SiriusXM: 92/190 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]

Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

FLORIDA GATORS OLE MISS REBELS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Andy Kennedy
Record: 12-11 (5-5 SEC) Record: 16-7 (7-3 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Odds: Florida -4.5

INJURIES AND ABSENCES

» Out (3): Junior guard Michael Frazier II (high-ankle sprain), sophomore center John Egbunu (transfer – season), freshman G Brandone Francis (academics – season)

On Monday, Donovan said he expected Frazier to be out for Thursday’s game with a high-ankle sprain, though he did not know how long Florida’s leading scorer would be missing in action. During a radio appearance Wednesday, he expanded on those comments noting that Frazier “could be [out] a couple of weeks.” There are only three weeks left in the regular season for the Gators and likely only four overall as – the way Florida is playing right now – an NIT berth is far from certain.


BETTER EFFORT, SAME RESULTS

Florida competed hard against Kentucky on Saturday; there is no questioning that. Ultimately though, the Gators did not make the plays needed to win the game – with Frazier’s injury playing a role in their late struggles – and dropped their 11th contest of the season. Florida’s 11 losses tie their most since the 2009-10 campaign, though the difference this time is that UF still has eight regular-season games left to play.

Donovan hopes the way the Gators competed over the weekend can carry over to their contest on Thursday as Florida will host Ole Miss, a team it fell to by a single point a few weeks ago – and that was with Frazier draining 6-of-8 threes and scoring a season-high 27 points.

“I think that they knew that playing together was the only way to give ourselves a chance to win in the game. I thought we did that. They have a great opportunity to learn from what happened in the game,” he explained.

“The immaturity, the understanding of what really goes into winning, being able to play together and benefit off of playing together and making each other better are some things they can learn from. The biggest question I have and have always felt, which will be interesting to see, is: Are we an externally-motivated team? When you are an externally motivated team, that is a problem because you have to be internally motivated and inspired by yourself. … As a competitor it is really, really dangerous when you are dealing with guys who are externally motivated by different things. So how do we come back and respond from Saturday to this next game?”

The internal will to fight and compete has not been consistently present for the Gators to this point. And while an NCAA Tournament is nearly an impossible goal to reach at this point (Florida would have to run through the regular season without losing another game, or win the SEC Tournament, or a combination unforeseen success in both), even an NIT berth is far from certain. No SEC team made the secondary tournament last year with fewer than 19 wins; UF has 12, is on pace for 16 and would need to go 5-3 in the regular season with two SEC Tournament game wins just to get to 19.

Considering Florida is 0-4 against SEC opponents it is set to play a second time this season (LSU, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Kentucky) and also has Texas A&M (16-7) to play twice, that’s some tough sledding. Donovan thinks it’s possible but would require a change in team mindset that he just does not see on a game-by-game basis to this point.

“If you draw a line down a sheet of paper and you put on one side ‘performance’ and you put on the other side ‘compete’ … when you’re wrapped up in your performance and how it’s going for you because you’re wanting to play well, you never, ever compete like you need to. When you just go out and compete, you’re never, ever worried about your performance; you’re just in the game competing trying to do your job,” he explained.

“I am trying to change mental disposition and habits that these guys have had their whole entire lives. And these experiences are hopefully changing their mental approach toward competing. I feel like that’s my number one job for them to be successful. Even when they leave here, you know, because they’re going to go get a job somewhere and you better be internally motivated to do your job. They’ve got to develop that piece of it there.”

Donovan believes that the Gators have seen themselves as bigger than the games they were competing in at times, which led to embarrassing back-to-back losses to Georgia and LSU and a should-have-won game against Ole Miss. The three-game losing streak was Florida’s first since the end of the 2011-12 regular season, and Mississippi has a chance make it twice for UF in a single season (for the first time since 2009-10) on Thursday.

… or the Gators could finally snap out of it despite not having Frazier in the lineup, take control of their destiny and prove that they are not Donovan’s worst team since his second season with the program in 1997-98.

HISTORY, STATS AND STREAKS

» Florida leads Ole Miss 62-44 in the all-time series between the programs; the Gators are 15-8 against the Rebels under Donovan. UF is also 36-11 playing in Gainesville with a 7-2 record under Donovan (seven-straight wins).
» Six of the last seven games played between Florida and Ole Miss were decided by six points or fewer.
» The Gators were 86-10 over the last three seasons when holding opponents under 71 points in a game; UF is 11-7 this season when doing so.
» UF has double-digit losses for the first time since 2011-12. In the last 16 seasons, Donovan has only lost 10+ games six times (including 2014-15).
» Florida has put forward 10 different starting lineups in 23 regular-season games, using its current starting five in five-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 5-8 in such affairs this season.
» UF is on pace for 16 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.
» With the NCAA Tournament seemingly out of the picture, UF still needs to play better just to make the NIT. No SEC team with fewer than 19 victories earned an NIT berth in 2013-14.

OPPONENT QUOTE

» Donovan on what he thought about Ole Miss from the first meeting: “They are terrific offensively. The interesting thing in the game was our leading scorer [Frazier] had an unbelievable game, scoring 27 points; their leading scorer, [Stefan] Moody, went 2-of-10 from the field and didn’t have a great offensive game and we still came up short.”

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