With No. 4/5 Florida Gators basketball (21-3, 11-1 SEC) set to begin a challenging week of action including a road game at Missouri and a home contest against Arkansas on Saturday, head coach Billy Donovan met with the media Monday to provide updates on his team heading into its next two games.
MISSOURI: A DIFFERENT TEAM AT HOME
Florida trounced Missouri 83-52 back on Jan. 19 in Gainesville, FL, but the Gators had plenty of things working for them that day. Not only was the home crowd as loud and rowdy as it had been in recent memory, the Tigers took the court without their best player as forward Laurence Bowers was sidelined with a knee injury. Donovan explained that Bowers being back in the fold makes Mizzou a completely different team.
“[He’s] a guy that has been referenced by their team and coaches as a heart and soul guy to their team. He’s a very good player,” he said. “He can do a lot of different things. He rebounds, he can score from the low post, he can shoot threes. He’s very crafty, he’s good defensively, [and] he’s a very smart player. I think anytime you take a player like that off your team, your team is going to be a little different. Certainly, as an older guy, a veteran, an experienced guy, him being back only makes their team better.”
Tuesday’s hosts also play significantly better on their home court. Missouri is 14-0 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, MO this season, boasting a 6-0 mark in Southeastern Conference play and winning those games by an average of 14 points. Conversely, the Tigers are 1-5 against league opponents on the road. The last time UF faced a team with such an extreme difference in their level of play based on location, the Gators were upset 80-69 at Arkansas on Feb. 5.
“You go play in Rupp [Arena], you go play at Arkansas, you go play in certain places around the league, a tough environment is going to be a tough environment. The noise level at any place on the road is going to be loud,” Donovan said. “Our guys have played on the road. We played at Arizona; I thought that was a very, very difficult place to play. We went to Kansas State [and] they had a great turnout. Our guys have played in difficult situations. I don’t think that there’s anything that we’re going to talk about environment-wise that is going to [catch] our guys off-guard.”
That is not to say Donovan is unaware of Missouri’s proficiencies in the friendly confines of their home gym. He has studied up on those variances, which means Florida’s players will be on high alert come Tuesday.
“They certainly feel more comfortable shooting the ball at home,” Donovan said of the Tigers. “The biggest numbers are what they’re shooting from the field, which is right around 48 percent, and what they’re shooting from three, which is about 42 percent. So they’ve been a team that has been extremely explosive offensively at home. … Now you’re dealing with a very, very explosive offensive team that can score in bunches in a lot of different ways, in a lot of different situations and they have back a key guy in Bowers that we didn’t see when we played against them last time.”
Read what else Billy Donovan had to say…after the break!
FINDING HIS GROOVE
Freshman guard Michael Frazier II is the only first-year player on Florida’s roster to average more than five minutes per game, and as fans have seen, he is making the most of his opportunity. Averaging 19.0 minutes per contest, Frazier is fifth on the team in scoring (6.3 points) and third in rebounding (3.5), accomplishing all of that while shooting a team-best 50.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Coming off of a game in which he hit 6-of-7 attempts from downtown and registered a career-high 18 points, Frazier won the SEC Freshman of the Week award for the second time this season. Donovan on Monday discussed why he has had so much early success and how he is steadily improving on defense.
“He still has lapses in the game sometimes where I’d like to see him be a little better, but he’s getting better,” Donovan said. “There’s some newness there. Sometimes, he doesn’t quite see things developing like maybe some of the older guys do. He’s maybe a step late, or he gets screened, or he gets bumped, or he’s not paying attention and he’s not in the right position. Sometimes he gets hurt, but he’s getting better.
“The one thing that’s great about Mike is he’s really coachable. He allows me to get on him. He allows the coaches to push and drive him. He wants to get better. He wants to learn. And I think, because of that attitude, his learning curve to get better is probably a lot further along than a lot of younger guys. … He wants input, he wants to be coached, he wants dialogue, he wants to be challenged. And I think, when you do that to him, he tries to respond and do better.”
Frazier is even drawing praise some from of his veteran teammates.
“He’s always asking questions before he starts to do anything. As a freshman, you always want to ask people that have experience,” redshirt senior G Mike Rosario said. “A guy like Frazier works hard every single day, and it’s starting to pay off for him. He’s had that focus level coming in as a freshman, getting better every day. … I feel like Frazier has a lead [on the other freshman] because he can shoot the ball very well and he’s also 6’4” – a big body – and helps us on the boards as well. His focus level has been very high for our team.”
One reason why Frazier is making an early impact and appears to be a very coachable player to Donovan is because he ended his high school career playing at Montverde Academy, an in-state private school that is also a basketball powerhouse.
“I think it definitely helped him. I think playing against good players, I think playing in a very, very competitive environment, and I think no question that experience helped him. I think Mike would tell you that it really, really helped him,” Donovan said. “He played for a great high school before he left there and a great coach but certainly the level of talent and the scheduling and who he played against and those things probably were really, really raised by being at Montverde. I think that experience probably helped him.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On how concerned he is about ensuring Florida is balanced offensively: “I don’t have a set number of threes or [an idea of] who needs to score. I just know that the ball needs to move. It needs to find the open guy. If you’ve got a shot and a guy has got a better one, you’ve got to find that guy. … Offensively, you then become very challenging and difficult to guard because then [opponents] have got to make some decisions on how you want to play against a really balanced team.”
» On dealing with a physical Missouri team: “We’ve got a hand that we’re dealt with and we got to figure it out. Going into the Kentucky game in the second half with four minutes to go, I had [Casey] Prather at the center spot and Frazier at the power forward spot. Someone is going to go into the game that is going to be undersized. That’s probably the extent of it right now. It is not like we are going to whip up somebody and throw them in there right now and all of a sudden become this real, real deep basketball team across the front line. … You got to try to do some things on offense to space the floor and you got to try to do some things on defense to provide help in the post and you got to utilize each other.”
» On watching former Gators during NBA All-Star Weekend: “I watched a little bit. I watched a little bit of [Joakim] Noah and I watched a little bit of David Lee. … I was happy for both of those guys. I was happy for a lot of our guys. Matt Bonner obviously finished second in the three-point shooting contest, Chandler Parsons and Brad Beal were in the rookie-sophomore game and obviously Noah and David Lee playing in the All-Star game, so I was happy that those guys could have that kind of experience for the weekend.”
» On senior F Erik Murphy being a consistent three-point shooter: “The one thing I would say with him, which is very, very rare and you find this with really good shooters, a lot of times people look at somebody’s mechanics and they say, well, those are wrong and those are right. Sometimes a guy has developed over a period of time an understanding of how his shot works. And when they understand how their shot works, they then can determine why they miss or make shots. The one thing about Erik when he shoots the ball is there is very, very little stray from doing the same exact thing over and over and over and over. Sometimes when Kenny Boynton shoots, when he is a little bit off, he is not shooting at the height of his jump, he is shooting on the way down. Lee Humphrey, when he shot the basketball, he had a hitch in his shot. He shot the ball on the way down and it looked awkward sometimes, but he had mastered that rhythm so much that he had a flow. So I think Erik has got really good rotation. I think he shoots the same shot each time. He has confidence in the fact of when he is open and when he is in position to shoot that he is going to do the same thing over and over. I think it is more of a tribute to his discipline. … Erik is about as consistent as they come. Mike Miller was like that, [Brett] Nelson was like that, [Teddy] Dupay was like that. There were certain guys that were really, really like that and they could really, really do that. I would say Frazier is very similar to that. There is very, very, very little stray from their mechanics. Their mechanics are what they are and it is the same thing every time.”
» On his confidence in Rosario on the court: “Well, I’m sure his confidence is sky-high. It was sky-high last year. That doesn’t waver too much with him. … I think part of the reason I challenge him so much is when he is really focused and locked in, he seems to play his best basketball. When he gets loose and relaxed and he’s not on edge and really, really ready, he gets a little carefree. But he’s done a really good job, and I’m proud of Mike. I think he has come a long way from where he was a year ago. I’ve got confidence in Mike. I’ve got belief in Mike. When he is out there playing the right way, doing the right things, he is a very effective player for us.”
» On the impact senior G Kenny Boynton has made in his four-year career: “I think the first thing is him coming in here, we were coming off two NITs in a row after coming off two national championships. He had a lot to do with us getting back to the NCAA Tournament three years ago. Two, I think that he has evolved as a player. I think he came in as a freshman as a very explosive offensive player. That’s kind of what he did, but I think he turned out to be a really good defender, a guy that we had confidence in putting him on specific players. You think about his career, guarding Jimmer Fredette, having to do that two years in a row. He’s had to guard all sorts of guys, the Rotnei Clarkes of the world, John Jenkins from Vanderbilt. He’s guarded some really good players, and he’s done an outstanding job. He’s been really, really coachable. He’s been a great kid. He’s been about winning. I think he has conducted and handled himself the right way. I have said this: I think whenever his time is done here, he will go down as one of the better players to ever lace them up and play here. Especially, I am proud of him and I am happy for him being from the state of Florida. He’ll be able to have that for the rest of his life. He’s meant a lot and he’s done a lot for our program.”