One scholastic semester has ended and another is set to begin, just as one segment of the basketball season is soon to transition into another.
It seems only fitting that the Gators face their final out-of-conference “test” against the cerebral Yale University. And though the winter vacation offers an academic study break, Coach Donovan’s squad has been cramming not only for Sunday’s game, but also in preparation for the upcoming SEC slate.
“I think anytime that you are in situation where there is no school and there’s no time constraints, you know — really, in a lot of ways, you are in a position where you have unlimited time to work and get better,” Donovan said of an admittedly demanding practice schedule.
And what specifically would the Gators’ coach like to see “get better”?
“I think, clearly, our defensive numbers are not what they were earlier in the year,” Donovan said.
Though Donovan sited a decreased defensive efficiency rating, something as simplistic as the scoreboard validates his concerns. In 3 of its past 4 games, the Gators have conceded an average of 64.3 points — a figure nearly 17 digits higher than that of its other 8 contests. And not-so-coincidentally, two of the fore mentioned games yielded Florida’s only losses of the season.
While formidable road opposition (@ Arizona and versus Kansas State in Kansas City) is surely a factor, Donovan preferred to focus more on the areas he feels his team can improve.
“Generally you give up a lot of points when one, you foul and put teams to the free throw line, and you give up three-point shots,” Donovan said. “So we have had some slippage there defensively that we need to get better”.
And though defensive improvement was the focus of a recent grueling stretch of ‘two-a-days,’ a sometimes stagnant offense was not without critique from its coach.
“We still are getting guys down the lane, in the paint, which is where we want, but they have got to make the right read to see who is open,” Donovan said, reiterating a season-long sentiment.
One player Donovan sees open, and would like his guards to also recognize, is Sunday’s “homecoming king,” senior forward Eric Murphy.
“When Eric Murphy is open, we can’t miss him. You know, we can’t be blind to that,” Donovan said. “It’s not looking them off, we are just not finding them,” he said of his guards’ occasional inability to find Murphy or other open teammates.
Should the Gator’s recent on-court “study session” prove impactful, the player that may most benefit is a slumping Kenny Boynton. Despite a solid outing against Air force, Donovan suggested that his senior guard has become too reliant upon the three-point line.
“Over 60 percent of his shots are threes,” Donovan acknowledged. “In some of these games, he has been somewhat one-dimensional,” he said.
Should the Gators seek to ace its final exam before conference play begins, it will need a ‘return to form’ defensively, better offensive recognition and a more versatile, driving Kenny Boynton.
Tune in Sunday to see how Florida grades out!