The funny thing about this Florida team is that they win so much in grand fashion, when there is a flaw in their game, questions start getting asked. Florida got off to a good start and then hit a 10 minute lull on the floor in the second part of the first half of their SEC Championship clinching victory over Vanderbilt Wednesday. The Gators turned it on and had a 26-2 run in the second half before cruising to a 66-40 victory.
But that break down? What is the deal? Fans want to know, and Donovan is dealing with them.
“I think what ends up happening sometimes is when you have a large margin of victory… I think everyone here sees a lot of areas that we need to get better at,” Donovan said to the Florida media on Wednesday. “My question to you guys is why weren’t they talked about in November, December, or January, when we had those large margins of victories? It’s the same thing. Nothing has really changed. We’re always striving to try to get better. I think that when you win a game by 26 points at home in your league, that’s a heck of a job. But I probably as a coach am constantly pointing out areas that we need to get better at.
Donovan has been pleased with some performances this season although he rarely lets on to that after the contest. He pointed out a few times where he thought the Gators were playing at the top of their game this season.
“Were we ever playing at a peak performance this year at any point?” he asked. “We had games where I thought we played at an exceptionally high level. We did it against Missouri here at home. I thought we did it at Texas A&M. We did it at Auburn. We’ve had some home games here where I thought we played at a high level. Kentucky, here, we played at a high level. But because you’re dealing with human beings and kids and stuff like that, that’s kind of goes up and down.”
He likes his grizzled group of veterans that he has, guys that understand what it takes to keep working to strive to get better.
“The biggest thing you want are guys that are in a mindset and a frame of mind that they want to get better. I think we’ve got that kind of group of guys. You’re always striving to try to get better, to try to improve.
“So what is it going to take for us to play at that highest level, to play our best game? I’m hopeful that our best game is still in front of us. I’m hopeful that we play better against Kentucky than Vanderbilt. I hope we play our next SEC game better. That’s our goal: to constantly keep doing it.”
The celebration was fun in the O’Connell Center after the game, cutting down nets, dancing on the court, holding up SEC banners, but all of that has to be put aside now and they have to concentrate on the next task.
Florida has a lot to prove still. A team that has made two consecutive Elite Eights, wants to take that next step and beyond. They have had their stumbling blocks, but they can’t let success blind them. They have a date with perennial power Kentucky at Rupp arena this weekend.
“They've got to close the door on last night and be able to move to the next game right now,” Donovan said of his crew. “I think the next game, for both teams, is important. You want to be able to go into the SEC Tournament improving… getting better. Our team, because of this being now the third game where if we can get through these next two days without injuries, we'll have a full roster going to Kentucky. So I still think we have improvements and growth we can make based on the Alabama game and the Vanderbilt game finally getting back to a full roster. So I still think that we want to be playing better, still need to improve. Certainly to go into Rupp and win, you're going to have to play well. You're not going to win the game by going in there and not playing well. They're very good at home, not only this year, but the history of their program. It's a challenging, difficult place to play in. You want to take on a road challenge to be able to go in there and play well.”
You see it every once in a while even when not prompted. The injuries and short bench this season has been an issue at times. Florida could blame injuries on all three conference losses this season if they wanted to, but Donovan is more interested in getting everyone healthy and getting back into the rhythm that allowed them to play some of their best basketball.
“To put a little bit of a wrench in it for us is because we’ve had to deal with guys coming in and out of our lineups, to get guys back, to get them reps, those kinds of things, that’s probably dampened our ability to play at the highest level for us,” he said. “I still think that’s out there for us. I still think we can do that, but it’s going to take some time to get to that point.
He saw a lot of improvement from the first to the second half on Wednesday. A team that struggled over the last 10 minutes of the first half came out on fire in the second including a 26-2 run and put the Commodores away rather easily. Certainly some of that can be chalked up to a couple of guys like Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier being a little healthier and getting their feet under them.
“I thought we got a little bit better in the second half,” Donovan said. “We had better flow, better movement in the second half. I thought we had some opportunities in the first half, high-low passing, getting the ball inside. We had some mishaps there. But I thought the shooting percentage in the second half, our ball movement, getting a high number of assists… I thought we were pretty balanced. We worked inside and out, we had some good drives to the basket. It's still a work in progress, but I thought we were better in the second half than we were in the first half.”
The last regular season game is the road game on Saturday. While Florida doesn’t have an award winning road victory to its name this year, Donovan believes the Gators have played well and just come up short a few times.
“I don’t know, we lost at Tennessee by six points with basically six guys and Prather went out with a split head open,” Donovan said. “So we had five guys that played significant minutes. We go to Missouri basically with seven and we’re leading pretty much the whole entire game. I thought we had some defensive breakdowns. We gave up some 3s to Jabari Brown. We had a couple good 3s that didn’t go down for us. That Tennessee game, we went 1 of 10 from the 3-point line in the second half.
“I think our guys are performing pretty well on the road. They've competed and played well on the road. It's like the same thing last year. We ended up losing I think three in a row and I saw our team getting better at that point without Yeguete because it took us some time to get to that point.
“If you look nationally, give me one team that’s just totally dominated on the road? Nobody has. You want to be in a position that you have a chance to win and you’re in the game. I’m more disappointed when you don’t give yourselves a chance to win. I mean, we got the ball down four twice inside of four minutes and we took a bad shot one time and Rosario got called for a charge that cuts it to two. And one time down four Kenny Boynton had a wide open three that just didn’t go in. But we’re right there. We guarded really well.
“Certainly we want to win road games, but I don’t know how many teams in the league have a winning road record. We’ve performed pretty well on the road. We haven’t always gotten the result that we wanted, but we’ve given ourselves a chance to win.”
He’s looking for more than just a chance on Saturday in front of 24,000 screaming Wildcat fans.