No. 8 Florida Gators basketball (2-1) needed overtime to edge the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (2-1) on Friday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida. Injuries to a pair of key players depleted Florida’s depth chart, but the Gators were nevertheless able to come from 12 points down to defeat the Warhawks 61-56.
Head coach Billy Donovan met with the media after the game to discuss his high-level concerns about the Florida basketball team and two players who may be out for an extended period of time.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE GATORS?
Florida struggled mightily against Louisiana-Monroe, falling behind by 12 in the first half, needing a 15-0 run just to take a nine-point lead in the second half (despite UF being favored by 21 against ULM), coughing up an eight-point lead with last than two minutes remaining and barely squeaking by the visitors in overtime.
Donovan has repeated week after week that the Gators have a long way to go to be a truly capable and successful team this season, and he stuck with that opinion late Friday.
“I actually think it was really, really good for our team because I don’t think we have any concept of even what goes into winning. We need this right now. We get exposed and [the players] get exposed,” he began. “The last 1:45 was ridiculous. … I knew tonight we were going to struggle scoring. You can’t take our two leading scorers off the floor and expect to put up a lot of points. … I think it’s going to take a lot of these kind of experiences. … There’s going to be some really painful moments. It’s just part of them getting scarred, wounded, broken down.
“I’m happy we won. Maybe they learned a lesson. Certainly I knew we were going to struggle on offense, like I said. They have no concept of what goes into winning and they have to take ownership of what that looks like each and every day. They think they work hard so therefore we work hard, we’re going to be good. So does Monroe. I’m sure they work hard every day in practice, too. From a talent standout, their talent was probably better than our talent at certain points.”
There is no question that Florida played a poor game Friday. The Gators were 17-of-52 from the field (.327) and 3-for-15 from beyond the arc (.200), turned the ball over 14 times (nine from their point guards alone) and generally looked out-of-sync considering the opponent they were facing. Donovan had his own explanation for why.
“Sometimes when you wear a certain name across your jersey, you have an arrogance and you lack a humility that you can actually step across the lines or look at somebody and say, ‘You know what? I’m superior to you.’ That’s dangerous in competition,” he said. “Those guys tonight for Monroe could’ve cared less what was across our jersey. Those guys played tonight. And in reality, they were a better team than we were. It’s that kind of mindset that gets in the way of them really understanding [what it takes to win].”
So what can Florida do to improve? What must the Gators experience in order to truly turn the corner at this early point in the season? Donovan could only muster one word.
CONCERNED ABOUT CARTER
Enough already. That’s what redshirt junior guard Eli Carter must have thought late Thursday when he injured his foot in the closing minutes of Florida’s practice. A similar concept must have entered Donovan’s mind as he looked at his leading scorer through the Gators’ first two games writhing on the court in pain. But these are the cards Florida has been dealt right now.
UF announced less than two hours before tip-off Friday night that Carter hurt his foot in practice and would be unable to play in the game as he would be wearing a boot on the bench. Results of X-rays to Carter’s foot were negative (no breaks), but the fear is that he actually may have suffered a more serious injury, which is why an MRI has been scheduled for Saturday.
“They’re concerned with a Lisfranc, whatever her name is or his name is, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of Lisfranc,” said Donovan. “They want to look in to, I think, rule that out, or it’s just a mid-foot sprain. If it’s [a Lisfranc], from what I’ve heard, it’s a pretty extensive time he’s going to be off. And if it’s the other one, then they’re hoping 8-10 days. … We’re just hoping that it’s not the other thing. What I think they’re trying to do right now is dot their Is and cross their Ts, and I really appreciate our trainer and our medical team going to the Nth degree just to find out exactly what it is to make sure. I’ll have a lot more probably sometime [Saturday].”
The good news for Carter and Florida is that the injury is not to the foot that he has spent extensive time rehabilitating recently. The bad news is that a Lisfranc is a serious injury to the region of the midfood that connects to the forefoot and not only helps stabilize the entire foot but also preserves the arch. There is a Listfranc joint that can be fractured and a Listfranc ligament that can be torn. In other words, both are extremely important and an injury to either is bad.
Such an injury is rare in general but even less common for basketball players as it usually occurs when a foot is planted and stuck in the ground and consequently gets severely twisted by momentum or a hit. While still uncommon, it is most often suffered by football players with stars like Eric Rhett, Ronnie Brown, Larry Johnson, Dwight Freeny and Matt Schaub some of the most famous athletes to be struck by the injury.
Most players, with proper rehabilitation and training, are eventually able to return from such an injury, though they usually have to be immobilized for two months and can miss an additional 2-4 months of action. Such an ailment could mean the end of the season for Carter in a worst-case scenario.
LOOKING FOR DOE-DOE
Unlike Carter, redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith was ruled out well before Friday’s game with two fractures in his non-shooting hand. Finney-Smith suffered the injury in the first quarter of the Gators’ season-opener but stayed in the contest and played well. He the missed the Miami game and sat out for Louisiana-Monroe, too.
However, unlike against the Canes, Finney-Smith was not even on UF’s bench when they played the Warhawks. Donovan explained his absence, noting it was not for rehabilitation purposes.
“I got him back right now because he needs to take care of his academics. He needs to take care and focus on his school work and get that stuff done,” he said. “I told him that he needs to take a step away right now, since he’s not playing and everything else, and just take care of his school work and just take care of what he needs to take care of.”
An interesting statement by Donovan, considering Finney-Smith has been cleared to play by trainers as long as he can stand the pain and discomfort. With a week to go until Florida travels to the Bahamas for the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, one would think Finney-Smith would feel well enough by then to participate in the games. Instead, Donovan commented Friday that he expects the Gators to play that tournament with the roster as it was tonight – without Carter (it’s best scorer) and Finney-Smith (it’s most versatile player).
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Simply put, sophomore point guard Kasey Hill has not improved his shooting from last season. Through three games, he is 3-for-24 from the field (.125), and on Friday he also got extra sloppy with the ball, coughing it up five times. Donovan threw him on the bench on multiple occasions, and he discussed his floor general’s play after the game. “I got to find a way to help Kasey Hill. I got to find a way to help him. I don’t know what it is … Our bigs didn’t do a good job helping him, and he’s really got to make better choices and better decisions,” he said. “He’s got to have confidence in himself. I told him in the game, I’m like, ‘Listen, Kase, if you’re not shooting, we’re playing five against four. You’re going to have to shoot the ball.’ He’s really an unselfish player. I’ve got confidence he can make 15-foot jump shots; I really believe he can do that, and I want to see him have more confidence in himself and take that shot. He’s capable of making it, and I really believe he can do that.”
» Donovan on sophomore F Chris Walker, who had six rebounds in his first game but was terrible defensively: “I kind of laugh when you see all this preseason stuff or all the hype about Chris Walker. … In fairness to Chris, he did a really good job today; he played hard, he played with energy. He wouldn’t have looked like that last year; he’s really come a long way and done a great job.”
» On redshirt senior walk-on F Jacob Kurtz, who has 28 rebounds through three games and was clutch on Friday: “He was awesome tonight. He was awesome. He really was great. He made a couple great play. He threw that back-cut pass to [Jon] Horford that put us up by two. He kept a couple rebounds alive, gave us some extra possessions, tipped the ball off a guy’s hand, we got it at the end of the game up 3 and were able to ice the game, had a couple big defensive rebounds. He gets it. He’s the one guy on the team that really, really gets it. He understands what this is all about and he’s got a real clear-cut understanding of what goes into winning. A lot of these guys don’t. It’s not their fault. I don’t blame them. I think my responsibility as a coach is to try to help them through some of those things to try and help them out.”
» On freshman PG Chris Chiozza, who made some big plays and had four steals but turned the ball over late: “He really does [have something special]. There’s some things that come instinctively for him and very, very natural in terms of seeing the floor and doing those kinds of things. He really does do a good job. He’s a tough kid. He needs to start better. He comes in a little bit kind of always looking to take the temperature. He needs to come in with a little more energy. … He’s a good player; he’s going to be a good player. He’s a good point guard. He’s got a good feel.”