The No. 19/22 Florida Gators dropped a 74-71 heart-breaker to the No. 1/1 Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament. Before Florida can advance to the 2012 NCAA Tournament, head coach Billy Donovan and a handful of players met with the media to discuss the loss.
FLORIDA PUTS FORTH A PRAISEWORTHY EFFORT
In what was a relatively even game offensively (both teams took 60 shots with Florida making two more than Kentucky), the final score was decided mostly by foul shooting. The Wildcats went 15-for-20 from the line while the Gators hit just two shots on their one trip to the charity stripe. Donovan was incensed at the disparity following the contest.
“I was proud of the way our guys competed today. I thought we had a two-minute stretch there where we gave up a few offensive rebounds. We had a couple turnovers that kind of allowed them to regain some momentum and take the lead,” he said. “But I really thought the difference in the game to me was the fact that we got to the free throw line two times and [in] by far the most physical game that we have played in all year. How we only got there two times is beyond me.
“That was a huge factor for us to be that close as we were with such a huge discrepancy. But we shot the ball well. I thought we moved the ball, made the extra pass. But I thought the offensive rebounding late in the second half and a few of our turnovers hurt us. But I give our guys credit. They battled and fought to get themselves back into the game to give themselves a chance.”
Donovan continued by discussing all of the things Florida was able to move past in the game – UK owning the offensive boards, UF turning the ball over at inopportune times – but remained fixated on the disparity from the free throw line.
“What we couldn’t overcome was 20 free throws to two,” he said. “And then what we couldn’t overcome was the rebounding margin, in particular the offensive rebounding. [...] But when you see from our bench in the second half, Patric Young getting pushed in the back constantly, constantly, constantly, and there’s just no whistle. I mean, to me, it’s really hard to overcome 20 free throws to two.
“There’s no way in the game like that. I could see if Kentucky was playing two-three zone and didn’t touch anybody…but we were fouling them. I’m not saying that we didn’t foul them. There [were] times we fouled them. I thought Murphy, when [Terrence] Jones drove, we fouled him. I’m not saying that. But I mean, we got to the free throw line two times? I mean, we just had a hard time overcoming that. But I thought our guys battled as physically as best they could up front.”
Asked if he saw fouls that were not called, Donovan nodded his head in affirmation.
“Yeah. Patric Young’s going up on offensive rebound and he’s being pushed in the back. And we’re doing the same thing to them,” he said. “I’m not saying that we’re not doing it. We’re doing the same thing. It’s just I’ll deal with the office on it. It’s probably the best way to put it. And I’ll have a lot to say, too. And when I say that, it had nothing to do with us losing the game, so I don’t want to take anything away from Kentucky. They deserve the game. They won the game.”
Read the second half of the post-game news and notes…after the break!
PLAYING BETTER AND STEPPING UP WITHOUT AN INSIDE PRESENCE
Though Young is a big body in the middle who – at times – can score and defend for the Gators, Florida has struggled recently without sophomore forward Will Yeguete (foot) in the backcourt. Donovan discussed after the game what UF has been doing over the last three contests in order to negate that disadvantage.
“What we got to do is manufacture two-point baskets, whether it’s throwing it to Patric or spacing the floor and creating penetration,” he said. “And I thought the last couple games, even going back to maybe Vanderbilt, I thought we did a much, much better job of understanding how to go about doing that. And I think our confidence grew as the games have gone on. Even though we fell off a little short on Vanderbilt on the road and Kentucky at home, I still could see some strides and progress there. There was progress made from those guys driving the ball and doing those things.”
Wildcats head coach John Calipari was impressed with the effort put forth by the Gators on Saturday and said it was the best he has seen the team play in three meetings between the two rivals this season.
“You look at [Erik] Murphy, he has a career night with 24. Bradley Beal played as well as he’s played in the last three weeks, played really good basketball,” he said. “They defended, they were physical, they got us inside, and we were fortunate to walk out. We made some free throws, blocked some balls down the stretch, but we didn’t – when we had a nine-point lead, normally we put people away. They’re a really good team, and I think that Billy’s just done a fabulous job to keep those guys marching forward.”
Florida’s players noticed that their team has improved its play even though the Gators dropped three games to one opponent this season for the first time since 2003-04.
“I believe this time, I think we didn’t give up. Like the first two games, we kind of gave up down the stretch,” Beal said. “But during this game we were down about six or eight, whatever it was, and we battled back and we ended up getting back in the game down two with a minute left. So I think from those three games, I think this is the best game we played against them by far and I’m really proud of my guys.”
Young thinks Florida excelled in overcoming a different obstacle.
“I think we did a really good job pushing through fatigue. They only played six guys, so we had our big emphasis on running the floor and getting out and score and push it out in transition,” he said. “It started wearing the guys out a lot because we don’t think they’re in the best of shape. But I think that we did a really good job with that. It showed, because we were able to stay in the game.”
Murphy, Beal and Young also expressed their confidence in the Gators’ ability to continue playing at a high level moving forward.
» Murphy: “I think we just got to keep it up. We got to play with confidence, play unselfishly, and fix the little things, like offensive rebounds, that hurt us today, and turnovers and stuff like that. I think we just got to keep playing the way we have been.”
» Beal: “I believe our effort in both games was pretty good. Our intensity was what coach wanted it to be. So I believe that if we just keep doing this going into the tournament, I think we’ll be fine.”
» Young: “I believe that it gives us something to build off of going into the practice next week. We just need to be committed and focused on doing the things that we failed to do this game, and hopefully we can make a good run in the tournament coming out next week.”