After putting together game after game in which the Florida defense held opponents’ leading scorers well below their season averages, the No. 2 Gators finally met their match over the weekend when Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson not only achieved his season average, but surpassed it.
Henderson may have been the Rebels’ only big threat on the night, but his ability to create and hit difficult shots continually kept Ole Miss in the game on Saturday, forcing the Gators to ramp up their own offensive production.
The Gators may have the reputation of a lock-down defensive team, but it’s nice to know that when points are needed, Florida is able to answer the bell.
On Monday, Billy Donovan said he’s proud of the way his team has been able to continually push the tempo despite creating some rather lopsided leads.
“I think our guys have done a good job of continuing to play as a group,” Donovan said. “I don’t know what we did during that one stretch when we missed a lot of consecutive three-point shots but I really haven’t noticed or seen in this last game our guys letting up or losing focus or not committed to the process of the next possession.
“My expectation going into to the game was not and never is to win by a large margin, it’s to do the things we’ve got to do … (Ole Miss gets) 80 points a game and they got 64 and in reality it was probably 61 until the last three was made, but for the most part the guys have done a pretty good job there.”
Donovan said the Gators did “a really, really good job” in guarding Henderson, who scored 25 points for the Rebels on Saturday, and he was especially proud of the way guard Scottie Wilbekin was able to keep up with Henderson.
“I applaud Scottie’s effort chasing him around,” Donovan said. The only guy that made a three in the game was [Henderson] and he made some really difficult ones so you have to give the kid credit. He really shot the ball well.”
Bring on the Hogs
While Florida certainly won’t be facing off against the Arkansas team which brought opponents “40 Minutes of Hell” in the early nineties, on Tuesday, the Gators will have tough task at hand in Fayetteville, and will have a short amount of time to prep for the Razorbacks (13-8, 4-4).
“It’s always different when you have a quick turnaround like this,” Donovan said. “For the first half of the season, it’s always been, for us, a Wednesday-Saturday, now we’re going Saturday-Tuesday. We’ve got probably three or four weeks in a row where we’ll go Saturday-Tuesday. You just have to deal with that.”
Although the Gators handed the Razorbacks their worst loss in Bud Walton Arena since it’s opening in 1993 with a 30-point victory last season, Florida also allowed guard B.J. Young to score 31 points against them.
On Monday, Donovan addressed what the Gators will need to do to contain Young this time around, while also dealing with a Razorbacks team which appears to play their best at home.
“[Young’s] a handful because he’s really, really explosive and he’s really good with the ball on the open floor because of his athleticism and open floor speed and how quick he can get to the rim,” Donovan said. “You can’t guard him with one person, just like you can’t guard [Marshawn] Powell with one person. Those guys are too skilled and too good offensively … Our ability to get back and protect the paint and protect against drives, that’s going to be really important.”
Donovan went on to say that the biggest difference the Razorbacks display at home is on the offensive end of the floor, in particular, field goal percentage.
“There’s probably a comfort level and a confidence level for those guys, playing in Fayetteville,” Donovan said. “It’s a unique and great environment, which I’m sure they enjoy very much. I think most teams feel different when they play at home.”
Defense Has Always Been a Focal Point
With the Gators enjoying such an unprecedented defensive season thus far, naturally, Donovan was asked on Monday if he has made a bigger commitment to defense over the years, a notion he quickly dismissed.
“No, I think you always have a commitment to defense,” Donovan said. “I thought our team in 2000 was really good defensively … We had Donnell Harvey and Brent Wright, (Udonis) Haslem and (Matt) Bonner and Mike Miller, (Kenyan) Weeks, those guys were really, really good defensively.
“Then, in 06-07, I thought we were really good defensively because we had great shot-blocking at the basket. This team is a little bit different because we don’t necessarily have a lot of those ingredients. We don’t have the same depth as in 2000, and we don’t have the same shot blocking as in 2006. But getting our guys to understand the ability that they have to help each other in certain areas on the floor, I think we’re much better in that area.”
I also think that we’ve got some more talented, so to speak, better defenders, athletically. Like Will (Yeguete) is very gifted defensively. Scottie is very gifted defensively … Listen, I’ve said this before, most teams always enjoy playing offense, more than they enjoy playing defense. Our guys, I think, have understood the value of playing good defense.”
Still Getting Better
When going on a run like the Gators currently are, the perception can quickly form from an outside perspective, that the team doesn’t have much else it can work on.
Don’t count on Donovan as a believer in that notion either:
“We have plenty of stuff to work on. That is never a problem. It is a constant, every single day thing …You are always taking yourself out of your comfort zone and I think as a coach I am always trying to put those guys in situations where they are being forced to be taken out of their comfort zone.
“Once they do something that’s really good, why as a coach wouldn’t you expect that out of them every single day? They do it once, why are they incapable or unable to do it on a more consistent level. That is what you are trying to get, you are trying to get a level of consistency. But you are never going to have consistency unless they are focused on trying to get better.”