No. 14/14 Florida Gators (22-6, 11-3 SEC) head basketball coach Billy Donovan likes to talk – and we like to listen – which is why we have compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes following his press availabilities Monday.
IT’s ALL ABOUT THE ‘SHIP
Don’t get it twisted. While there are plenty of storylines that will converge Tuesday night in Gainesville, FL, the most important thing to both Florida and the Alabama Crimson Tide is the opportunity to capture the 2011 Southeastern Conference regular season title. It is something that the Gators have worked four years to be in the position to achieve, while the Crimson Tide has simply played terrific basketball in conference play after starting the season out shaky.
“Ultimately both teams are going to go out there and are going to have to play,” said Donovan of facing his ex-associate coach. “We both do similar things, there are some similarities there. But you’re always coaching to your personnel and what you have.”
Alabama head coach Anthony Grant shared a similar sentiment, also heavily complimenting Florida as a team and the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. “Florida’s playing terrific basketball right now. It will be a tough environment to walk into, in their building Tuesday,” he said. “The thing we try to do is stay in the moment. It’s one game at a time. We’ve got enough with Florida’s team. They’re very talented.”
Perhaps summing it up best from UF’s perspective is redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin, who will play his final game in the building Tuesday. “I just want to come out of here with a win, our last win at home. It would be very rewarding,” he said. “I don’t know a player in college basketball who wouldn’t want [to win a conference title].”
PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP REMAINS STRONG
Donovan and Grant, both of whom became great friends while working together and have forged a bond that will last a lifetime, have not seen much of each other on the court since the latter left to become a head coach. However, the respect level they have for one another knows no bounds.
“I’m really happy for Anthony because he’s done a teriffic job with his team,” Donovan said early Monday during the SEC media teleconference. He continued praising Grant later in the day. “The personal relationship with Anthony, I’m very happy for him and the job that he’s done with his team. He really has done a terrific job.” Grant shared his thoughts as well. “Obviously I’ve got a lot of respect for what Billy’s done,” he said, “not only this year but the way his guys play [in general].”
PHYSICALITY, TOUGHNESS AND DEFENSE
The Gators have been lauded for the hard-nosed, grind-it-out defense they have exhibited game-in and game-out. In fact, many of Florida’s big victories this season have come from a thorough defensive effort. UF may meet its match Tuesday when it takes on UA, a team that has been holding opponents to fewer points per game (67.6-70.8) and lower shooting percentages (.452-.457). The Crimson Tide also block more shots per game (5.2-3.7), grab more steals (9.6-6.1) and force more turnovers (16.1-13.0).
“They’re a physical team. They do a great job defensively creating a lot of steals. They do a great job with their hands,” Donovan remarked. “Our ability to be strong with the ball is going to be really important in the game. They really don’t give up a lot of easy baskets so to speak. They have good speed, good quickness and athleticism [as well as] size across the front line. They’re just very active defensively and very athletic.”
This is a fact that has not been lost on the players, especially senior forward Chandler Parsons. “They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country. We’re going to have to execute our offense really well,” he said. “Coach Grant was in this system for a while, so I’m sure he knows some of the stuff we’re going to throw at him. It’s all about us being strong with the ball, making smart plays, not turning the ball over because they’re very disruptive on defense.”