The No. 19 Florida Gators opened their Southeastern Conference schedule last Saturday with a tough double-digit loss to Tennessee, providing head coach Billy Donovan with plenty of ammunition when he met with the media on Monday and shared his thoughts on the loss as well as the two games Florida is set to play this week.
TEAM NEEDS TO FIND INTENSITY
Florida looked sluggish against Tennessee on Saturday, and if you ask Donovan why, he’ll tell you that is exactly what he saw, too. In fact, he thinks the Gators were “a step slow” in all aspects of the game – from offense and defense to rebounding and playing in transition. “We were always behind on the play. I didn’t think our awareness, our alertness was not good. We got beat off the dribble too much. We got beat inside too much. We were late reacting. We needed to do a much better job and play at a much better level to have a chance to beat anybody on the road in this league, and we did not do that up there,” he said during the SEC teleconference on Monday.
While Florida’s offense has been able to bail the team out of poor defensive performances before, Donovan said the Gators also lacked energy in that area. Unfortunately for UF, that carried over to the defensive end of the floor and Florida appeared to be defeated well before the final buzzer sounded.
“I thought they were the aggressor,” Donovan said in a press conference Monday. “It really bled to both ends of the floor, both offensively and defensively. Certainly as a coach you’re always disappointed when you got to admit this, but I really thought they played a whole heck of a lot harder than we did.
“My job, my responsibility as a coach is to get those guys prepared and ready to play at a level they need to. We did not play, in my opinion, with the level of energy that we needed to. When you’re not playing with the energy you need, what ends up happening is you are a step behind and the other team looks quicker, more athletic, more alert [and] better prepared. That to me was disappointing. Hopefully we can get that corrected and we can get better in that area and get prepared to play Georgia with a better effort.”
Freshman guard Bradley Beal agreed with Donovan’s assessment and understands where his coach is coming from. “Whenever we play hard, our offense comes off our defense,” he said. We really couldn’t get things going on offense because we weren’t doing good on defense. We really just, these past couple days, are trying to be physical and just trying to be basketball.”
NO SCORING ALLOWED ON SUNDAY
Florida met for two sessions on Sunday – one to watch film and figure out what went wrong and another to practice and try to improve before Tuesday’s tilt. During the actual practice, Donovan put covers on top of the hoops and ran an entire practice of defense and rebounding, two areas in which the Gators have been falling behind.
“We came back [from winter break] and we were probably somewhat hamstrung a little bit because of illnesses and sickness. I don’t think our practices leading up to the Rutgers game were at the intensity level that we needed them to be. Some of it was that we had guys out,” he explained. “I actually felt like going into the Tennessee game was the first time we’ve really had a full fledge of players and practice like I really would like to. Right now going forward, me being able to emphasize [defense and rebounding] in a competitive environment needs to happen more than maybe it’s happened in the past.”
Donovan continued, “In any situation where you do not play like you wanted to and you lose, I find that really good teams and really good players have an ability to be very self-reflective on themselves and what they need to do to get better. I thought our guys were that way. We had a chance to watch a good amount of film yesterday morning from the game. We had a chance to work on some things that I don’t think we did very well.”
Junior forward Erik Murphy thinks Donovan’s tactics worked. “It was real intense,” he said of Sunday’s practice. “We basically just played defense and rebounded the whole time. They got the bubbles up on the hoop so you had to rebound because those shots weren’t going in. We came out and I think we came out with the right mentality. We weren’t down on ourselves. We came out focused and we had to or else it would’ve been ugly. I think we’re headed down the right track right now.”
BEAL’S STRUGGLES ARE TEMPORARY, JUST GROWING PAINS
Beal has had a rough go of it as of late, missing tons of shots, turning the ball over and overall just not playing well. Donovan has noticed his struggles but thinks that there is an easy way for him to overcome his obstacles. “He’s got to have what I consider a nastiness to him, a meanness to him internally of fighting through and focusing on what’s the next play,” Donovan said. “He’s such a good kid and he wants to do the right things that sometimes when things don’t go well, he has a tendency to take himself back and he’s thinking about something that just happened and there’s a play going on right now. That’s an area of growth he’s got to go through.”
Though he was dealing with a sinus infection over the holidays, Beal is not using that as an excuse for his poor play and said that his “confidence will never be shaken” when it comes to the game of basketball. He also said that Donovan has helped him in so many ways that he believes he will finally be able to break out of his rut soon. “He’s been a very big help because he’s basically just getting me to calm down and relax and do things from his standpoint or as he was as a player,” Beal said. “He said I just have to play basketball. He said I’m going to go through adversity anyways, so I just have to play through it.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan said sophomore guard/forward Casey Prather, who hurt his ankle against Tennessee, is doubtful for Tuesday’s game against Georgia. The team planned to give him some work in practice on Monday, but the trainers were not optimistic he would be 100 percent by game time.
» Donovan evaluating Georgia before the game: “We realize that, at the start of league play, we’ve got to continue to improve and get better. Georgia’s a basketball team that has lost some players from a year ago in their frontcourt but obviously their backcourt play has been outstanding as they’ve added some very talented young freshman. We realize it will be a challenge for us again [Tuesday] night.”
» Donovan on the Florida-Georgia game being different for basketball: “I’ve been in the league for a while, and I think in terms of the schools, geographically how close the schools are makes a natural border rivalry there so to speak. […] When you’ve got that kind of rivalry border-wise, there’s always going to be a level of enthusiasm and excitement in fans and [things] people can get excited about. I do think it’s somewhat different than football because we will play each other twice a year, whereas football they play once a year in Jacksonville. More than anything else, Georgia’s program has been good and anytime you’re playing against a good program that’s as close as they are to yourself there’s always going to be a level of excitement.”
» Donovan on being 0-4 on the road: “The first two road games of the year were at No. 1 and No. 3, Syracuse and Ohio State – tough places to play, really good teams. Then we went to Rutgers, a difficult place to play; Knoxville is a difficult place to play. When you go on the road to play, you’re probably not going to shoot the ball nearly as well and you got to be able to have something to hang your hat on. Being able to defend, get good shots, those kinds of things become important. Regardless of who you’re playing on the road, especially now that we’re in conference play every road game is difficult. And I think every home game is difficult; I don’t think there are any easy games per se where you can just show up and play, and we’ll have to play a lot better against Georgia than we did against Tennessee.”
» Donovan on if the Gators are getting the ball to sophomore center Patric Young enough: “That’s one of the challenges we’re having right now as a team. Our guys are looking for Patric. For Erving [Walker] and Kenny [Boynton], it’s a different frontcourt for them than they’ve had to deal with the last two years. Vernon [Macklin] and Alex [Tyus] were pretty much at the basket. Chandler [Parsons] with his size was a great facilitator of our offense. Patric obviously with his athleticism, big and strong, Murphy is more of a stretch four, and Brad is a freshman. One of the things offensively is there are things we run at Patric to try and get him the ball and get him touches but scouting over a period of time, teams are going to take those things away. You got to be able to flow in offense and take advantage of what’s available and what’s open based on trying to put the defense in some binds and have to have them make some decisions. That’s an area we really need to get better at. We got to get better at making those decisions of recognizing him when we’re coming in transition and something’s happened.”