(3) Florida Gators basketball (26-7) will be practicing all week in preparation for the 2013 NCAA Tournament, which begins for the Gators on Friday at 7:27 p.m. against the (14) Northwestern State Demons (23-8) of the Southland Conference. Head coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Monday to go in-depth about both teams heading into opening-round action in Austin, TX.
CLEARING UP (AND CLEANING UP) THE LATE-GAME ISSUES
Florida fell to 0-6 in single-digit decisions as Ole Miss came back from a 12-point halftime deficit to win the 2013 SEC Tournament. Yet while the Gators have not put away a team in such a situation this season, Donovan said Monday that he is not worried about his team’s confidence in close games.
“I look at things totally differently, I do. Maybe it’s just me doing it for as long as I’ve done it. I was much, much more alarmed…it had nothing to do with the close game,” he said. “Our guys played really hard the last six minutes. It was a 14-minute period there, up 12 in the second half… I do think it was a combination of several things.”
Specifically, Donovan was perturbed by the officiating during a crucial stretch early in the second half.
“I thought there were some calls in the game that were huge momentum-swinging plays,” he said. “There was a goaltend that clearly was a goaltend that wasn’t called that led to a three-point shot. And then I’m not so sure the six free throws that [Marshall] Henderson got on fouls were actually legitimate. Then I thought Rosario got up to the basket and got hit and there was no foul. And I thought Murphy taking charge, no call on Henderson. There were just some plays like that. I’m sure Ole Miss can look at the same thing and they can say, ‘These calls didn’t go our way.’ But I thought some of the calls were huge momentum swings in the game.
“That being said, I thought we got the shots we wanted, got to the free throw line whereas maybe earlier in the year I wasn’t totally happy with the shot selection. I was more disappointed in our defense. That’s what I was more disappointed in during the game was our defense in the second half.”
Though Florida did take good shots down the stretch, Donovan pointed to the Gators’ low shooting percentage – and its lack of tough on-ball defense in the second half – as the team’s major failures.
“Although we shot a woeful percentage in the second half – probably one of the things that hurt us was 3-for-11 from the free throw line and 4-for-17 from three – I really, after watching the film, was pretty pleased with the looks that we got in the second half. I thought we got good ball movement, good player movement, got the ball inside, got fouled, got to the free throw line. But the defense giving up 54 percent was a major problem,” he said.
And while UF has struggled to win games decided with single-digit margins, Donovan was quick to note that Florida has registered some close-game victories including a pair of second-half comebacks against Alabama over the last three weekends.
“The Alabama game – you’re down by 10 points [in the second half] – that’s a close game. Just because the score doesn’t say it’s close…that was not a 10-point game. That was a close game,” he said. “Alabama here at home was close. Sometimes people look at the [final] score and say those games were not close. They’re going to have to make the plays on the court that they need to make. Do I see our guys petrified, tight, scared, nervous? No. But they’re going to have to make those plays.”
THE (SECOND-TO-) LAST PLAY
With possession of the ball and 22 seconds remaining on the clock while trailing by just two points, Donovan chose to go inside to senior forward Erik Murphy rather than rely on one of his guards to take a jump shot. Murphy wound up missing his attempt (and the Gators did get another shot to tie the game later on), but Donovan said Monday that he was pleased with the look.
“I wanted to get some action towards the basket. There’s 22 seconds to go and we’re in the double bonus. I felt like in that situation, Erik is a really good free throw shooter. He’s probably our most consistent guy down inside. He got it in there and he got a shot that he’s capable of making that he didn’t make,” he explained.
“I think in those situations where you’re down by two, there’s always an apprehension or a nervousness on the defense to not foul. I just believe you got to put pressure at the basket. […] I thought we got exactly what we wanted. We wanted to get him a low-post touch and we got it to him. I thought that was our best option.”
Donovan also denied ESPN’s assertion during the game that he had pre-selected Murphy to be his go-to player in that situation. Brad Nessler and Jimmy Dykes intimates that Donovan told them such on Wednesday. “I’m not so sure that’s accurate,” the coach said with a grin.
SCOUTING THE DEMONS
Northwestern State enters Friday’s game with the No. 1 ranked offense nationally as it scores an average of 81.0 points per game. Florida, boasting the country’s No. 3 scoring defense, will certainly give the underdog all it can handle.
Donovan said Monday that he is impressed with the Demons after going through their game tape for the first time (or two). “We’re playing against a team that’s leading the country in scoring so they get up and down the floor. They’re a deep basketball team. They cause a lot of turnovers. … The little bit I’ve watched, they’re very impressive and they’ve had a great year,” he said.
Though he does not feel like Northwestern State’s three regular season losses to SEC opponents provides any significant advantage – “you’re so far removed from when they played those games” – he does think the Demons’ up-tempo style will blend well with what the Gators like to do on offense and in transition.
“We like to play fast, too,” he said. “We’ve got to play our style of play, too. The game is certainly going to be played in transition and they’re really good in transition. They can score quickly. They can turn you over a lot. They’re really good at those things.”
Donovan is also not concerned whatsoever with the fact that Northwestern State, as a 14-seed back in 2006, pulled off an upset over three-seed Iowa.
“That was that year. Our guys are smart enough to know that at any given time that can happen,” he said. “They’re a very, very good team. They’re in the NCAA Tournament for a reason – because they’ve earned their way in. They played great in their conference and won their conference championship. I don’t think what happened a couple of years ago has any relevance to us playing this game. This is its own separate game by itself.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan on what it takes to get past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament: “When you get into some of these situations – when you’re playing one-and-done – I think it is a different feeling for everybody. I think guys normally are a little bit jittery. They’re uptight. They’re nervous. They’re excited. It’s a different atmosphere. It’s a different feel all the way around. … Really try to go in the game, settle down and play and do the things that have given you the opportunity to be in the tournament.”
» Donovan on only three SEC teams making the big dance: “I was a little bit surprised, to be honest with you. … I do think that our league is good enough to have more than three teams in. But again, you have to look at everybody’s body of work.”
» Donovan on senior guard Kenny Boynton finding his stroke on Sunday: “I thought that was a good bright spot for us…as long as he’s taking good shots. […] One of the things that was apparent in our last six games was Kenny’s shooting percentage along with Mike Rosario’s. Then you look at the last game against Ole Miss, those guys shot a fairly decent percentage, made some threes whereas Scottie and Erik struggled. Those guys were a combined 2-for-12 and 6-for-22 and had pretty good looks that just didn’t go down.”
» Donovan on what he appreciates most about Boynton’s career: “I would say that his consistency every single day. When you’re dealing with young people, there’s usually a wide range of emotion sometimes you have to deal with, somebody’s box that they play in is pretty wide. He’s about as consistent of a guy as I’ve coached since his freshman year. His mood never changes, same guy. He’s reliable, you know what you’re getting. His consistency of being a dependable guy is really important. His fearlessness, his aggressiveness, his will of wanting to win as a competitor are things that stand out.”
» Donovan on if he would sit junior center Patric Young late in games because of his foul shooting issues: “I think sometimes it’s time, score, situation that you have to look at there. […] A lot of it depends on matchups because Will [Yeguete] is not a great free throw shooter either. So do you now put Murphy at the center spot and do you play with four guards? You sometimes got to look at who the other team has out there.”
» Murphy on March Madness: “It’s March. It’s the NCAA Tournament. Everybody is a little extra fired up. A lot of times in tournament games teams come out and might be a little too hyped, too excited. We can’t let that happen. We just got to play our game, focus on Northwestern State and execute our game plan.”