Gameday: Florida Gators at Missouri Tigers – Billy Donovan goes for win No. 500 with lacking team

By Adam Silverstein
February 24, 2015

Location: Mizzou Arena – Columbia, Missouri [Capacity: 15,061]
Time: 9:00 p.m. EST

TV: SEC Network (Matt Stewart, Darrin Horn)
Streaming Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: Watch ESPN app

SiriusXM: 119/191 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]

Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

FLORIDA GATORS MISSOURI TIGERS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Kim Anderson
Record: 13-14 (6-8 SEC) Record: 7-20 (1-13 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Odds: Florida -7

APPROACHING 500

Likely the last game Florida will be favored in this season, the Gators have a chance to get back in the winning column while providing Donovan with his all-important 500th victory on Tuesday night. Donovan, 49, who will be coaching in his 703rd game, has an opportunity to become the second-youngest coach to 500 wins, only behind the legendary Bobby Knight.

Asked on Monday to look back on his career and achievements – including two national championships and four appearances in the Final Four – Donovan deflected the praise (as usual) and gave a lot of credit to those that have been with him along the way.


“All that stuff, to me, is just a reflection on players that have been around me, the coaches that have been around me, the administration and the commitment. I really, really look at it as not necessarily going on my record but there are a lot of other people that have contributed in a big time way to all of the those things,” he said. “I am just a part of it and I think you are only as good as the people around you. I really believe that to be true.”

What Donovan would discuss are the top victories of his career, and he listed them as follows: the two national title wins, defeating Butler in the opening round of the 2000 tournament on a buzzer beater, taking down Duke in the Sweet 16 to advance to the Elite Eight that same year, and helping Florida’s four seniors move on to the Final Four just last season.

“Those are things that are meaningful. The wins when you have the most on the line are the most meaningful and when you get to see a culmination of a year, and able to get over some humps, those would be a couple that come to mind,” he said.

A normal Donovan-coached Gators team would at least have an opportunity to add to that list this season. Instead, 2014-15 Florida is one of Donovan’s three worst teams since he took over the program and undoubtedly the least successful since his second season in 1997-98. That is why Donovan’s 500th win has taken so long to achieve and is still, even with the odds in UF’s favor Tuesday, no sure thing this season as his team has lost five of six and eight of 11.

There are plenty of reasons for the Gators’ struggles.

“There are times when we play really, really good basketball, but then there are times when we don’t. I think they are battling, fighting and trying to do it, but we are just not able to do ‘it,’ so to speak, long enough. … I would hope that there is enough pride in our locker room that when they get down [by double digits] that that they are going to fight instead of quit,” Donovan explained.

“We are challenged on offense; we are. I think if you look at the guys that are playing and you look at shooting percentages from the three-point [line], free throw [line] and field, it’s a struggle. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful. What it means is that you have to be really committed to the things you have control over. … I have not seen, from the start of this year to now, this great growth by our team. … I feel like we are battling better. That is an area we have gotten better at. We are battling better for 40 minutes than maybe we did earlier.”

As always, Donovan has accepted much of the blame as Florida has floundered, noting that he has “fallen short” in terms of getting the Gators to understand how important it is to be fully committed to the game.

“I think that their legacy as a team is only going to be carried on by what kind of impact they make to each other inside that locker room. That’s really what it comes down to. So that’s been [a problem] for me, that I’ve not be able to get them to have that kind of commitment level. That’s been the question I’ve always raised and thought about this season: Can you really make a person be committed to what it takes?” he asked rhetorically. “I don’t know if you can or you can’t. I’m trying every day to try to get them to see that. But from a discipline, commitment standpoint, we’re not at the level that we have to be at to be a really, really good team. We’re just not. That’s why we’re at where were at right now.”

So that is what Florida and Donovan are faced with Tuesday. The Gators are far from a good team, going up against one that has been even less successful this season but is at least healthy and playing at home. Whether No. 500 will come for Donovan on Tuesday remains to be seen, but knowing him, a shallow victory will probably not be good enough anyway.

LONG WAY TO GO

Two years at Florida have not been easy for sophomore point guard Kasey Hill, a five-star prospect who showed flashes of brilliance during his freshman campaign but has yet to develop into a reliable player.

Donovan on Monday complimented Hill over and again on his character, calling him “one of the nicest kids I’ve ever coached, one of the nicest kids I’ve ever been around.” He said Hill “really wants to do well for all the right reasons,” does not have “a selfish bone in his body” and is “all about the team,” probably a favorite among his teammates. Outside of that, though, it has not been all sunshine and rainbows.

“Where he’s really struggled is decision making, reading defenses, understanding when he gets in the lane how he needs to play in the lane. I still think he goes in there off one leg a lot of times, and he kind of gives away what he’s getting ready to do. I think sometimes he gets in there, he’s easy to guard,” said Donovan, being critical yet fair about some of Hill’s flaws.

“We’ve struggled on the fast break in terms of converting on the break and a lot of times that has a lot to do with your point guard. I think his biggest struggle, his biggest challenge has been reading defense and seeing things when he’s playing. … When you’re a point guard, you’re going against constantly different coverages, and for me as a coach, it’s easy to see through my eyes and I played the position. I was able to see those things. That’s something he really has had a hard time with and has really just struggled with. And there’s times where he does get in there and it works out great and there’s some other times where it doesn’t work out great. I think that’s the first thing.”

Hill is averaging just 4.5 assists despite playing 29.7 minutes per game. As Donovan said, he’s been up and down, matching a career-high with 10 dimes while committing just three turnovers in a loss to Texas A&M (with no points on 0-of-7 shooting). Over the last two games, he’s coughed the ball up nine times while dishing just 10 assists and going 5-for-16 from the field. But it’s not just on offense where Hill is struggling.

“I think the second thing he’s got to get better at is he’s got to become way, way more disciplined on defense,” Donovan continued. “He sometimes compounds mistakes because when he does make a mistake, he’s trying to get it back because he wants to do so well so bad. And I think if he can get more disciplined and understand that as a point guard you’re going to make mistakes when the ball’s in your hands, but there’s still some things you can do when you make a mistake or a poor choice, and sometimes you’ve got to stop compounding them by being undisciplined. So those would be the two areas: his ability to read defense and his discipline.”

Donovan does not correlate Hill’s poor play to any physical or mental ills; rather, he thinks it is a matter of Hill struggling to absorb everything he’s being tasked with on a game-by-game basis. The coach has questioned the youngster’s commitment level in the past but believes he is improving in that regard, most recently staying after a poor free throw-shooting performance to take extra attempts from the charity stripe (Hill is .600 on the season, 4-for-10 in the last five games).

“That’s a commitment level by him that I think he’s growing in that area where maybe in the past he would not have done it,” Donovan said, “so he’s trying and he’s working at it. But it’s been a challenge for him. But I do think that he wants to get better.”

HISTORY, STATS AND STREAKS

» Florida is 3-1 all-time against Missouri with its lone loss in Columbia.
» The Gators recently avoided their first five-game losing streak since 1997-98, but Florida is 1-5 in its last six games and 3-8 in their last 11 with losing streaks of three and four games during that extended stretch.
» UF was 86-10 over the last three seasons when holding opponents under 71 points in a game; Florida is 12-10 this season when doing so.
» The Gators are scoring 64.8 points per game, the third-lowest average in program history (since the statistic was tracked) and worst since 1950-51 (62.7).
» Florida is shooting .433 from the field, its worst mark since 1995-96 (.426) and the second-lowest in program history.
» The Gators are hitting at a .654 clip from the free throw line, their worst average since 1992-93 (.635).
» UF is shooting the three at a rate (.323) that is its fourth-lowest in the 29 years the shot has been part of the game, its worst such mark since 2009-10 (.313).
» The Gators have 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 12 different starting lineups in 27 regular-season games. Overall, 10 players have started at least one game for UF this season. Florida’s current starters do not include a single player averaging in double digits.
» The Gators learned to win close games last season, going 15-2 in contests decided by single digits; Florida is 6-11 in such affairs this season, 2-6 in games that have come down to two points or fewer.
» UF is on pace for 15 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.
» The Gators have a record of .500 or worse during the spring semester for the first time since 1997-98.
» Donovan will coach his 703rd game on Saturday (Florida and Marshall combined). He is looking for win No. 500.

INJURIES AND ABSENCES

» Out (5): Redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith (suspension), junior guard Michael Frazier II (high-ankle sprain), junior F DeVon Walker (ACL), sophomore center John Egbunu (transfer – season), freshman G Brandone Francis (academics – season)

Frazier is missing his fifth-straight game due to injury, while Finney-Smith is missing his third-in-a-row while serving a suspension for violation of team rules. “He’s out. He’s not playing, so we’ll have to revisit again after this game,” Donovan said of Finney-Smith’s status. “We’ve got to take off on Wednesday, so I’ll have an update on Thursday if we do media on Thursday, but he’s out for the game.”

He continued: “There is a certain way that you have to go about playing here. There is a certain culture and standard that’s here, that I think has a direct connection on winning and success.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on how Florida will defend F Jonathan Williams III, Missouri’s best player: “It’s a real problem for us. He is a real handful. He is going to be a handful for us because he is a lefty and … there are certain guys you can throw the ball to at the three or the four and they can manufacture plays. He is one of those guys. He can catch it from behind the three-point line and drive it. He can catch it with his back to the basket and go make post moves. He can catch it, step away from the basket and shoot threes. So, there is really nothing that he can’t do wherever he catches the ball that he can go make a play. When you are going against a forward like that, it is really difficult, because then you start to worry about the three-point line, and once you start sending guys to him, his ability to pass and get the ball to the open man comes into play.”

» Donovan on how the Gators need to defend the Tigers: “The ball is going to go inside and certainly, the big thing is going to be, can we defend without fouling? [Jarrell] Martin took more free throws than our entire team did in the [LSU] game. So our ability to defend without fouling is going to be really, really important. Our ability to rebound the basketball … they are very, very physical up front; they are able to get second-chance opportunities. They are strong enough that they are able to get close to the basket. So our ability to change post position, our ability to provide help when we can, our ability to keep them off the backboard. I would say that they are a very, very physical team.”

One Comment

  1. Michael D. says:

    I know the game is scheduled to start at 9:00 p.m. Anyone know what time the Gators plan on showing up for the game?
    If Vanderbilt and LSU are any indication, they don’t seem to start when the game does.

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