It had been less than 24 hours since Billy Donovan and his team officially became SEC champions, but there was little talk of Florida’s crown on Thursday.
While an image of the Gators taking scissors to nylon may still be fresh on the minds of fans, Donovan and his team have already begun to look ahead.
“They’ve got to close the door on last night and be able to move to the next game right now,” Donovan said.
The next game for Florida (24-5/14-3) will take them to famed Rupp Arena, where they will face off against a desperate Kentucky (20-9/11-6).
The Wildcats dropped their second straight game on Thursday, this time, at the hands of Georgia on the road. Kentucky has certainly struggled since losing its centerpiece, Nerlens Noel, in the team’s first meeting with Florida in Gainesville.
As Noel writhed in pain on the O-Dome court on February 12th, Kentucky had instantaneously become a new team — albeit, not necessarily a better one. Ahead of UK’s upset loss to Georgia, Donovan was complimentary of the way freshman Willy Cauley-Stein had stepped up in recent weeks, while also acknowledging the hole Noel left on the Wildcats’ roster.
“I think anytime you lose a player like that, in [Noel’s] caliber, that’s always a loss. That’s a loss for any team,” Donovan said.
“Willy [Cauley-Stein] I think has stepped up. He’s gotten, better he’s improved … but certainly Nerlens did it I think, at like, an incredibly special level. As good as anybody’s done it in a long, long time.”
Donovan said the upcoming game was an important one for both teams, and that Florida would need to “play well” to win inside of Rupp.
With the Wildcats gingerly sitting on the NCAA Tournament bubble, every game is of the utmost importance. Florida knew at the beginning of the week Saturday’s game would present a hungry team, but the Wildcats’ loss to Georgia figures to make UK even more alert this weekend.
“I’m mad right now,” Wildcats guard Archie Goodwin said after his team’s loss to UGA. “There’s no way we should lose to Georgia.”
Yeguete Gets Into the Groove
Will Yeguete said he is still working to get back into he groove of things after playing in his second game since returning from a knee injury.
Donovan said Yeguete’s conditioning has taken a hit with his absence, and his offensive timing is still off.
However, Donovan said the Gators need only one thing from their scrappy forward — energy.
“We just need him to really play with great energy in great spurts,” Donovan said.
Every Possession is Important
With an SEC championship in hand, there isn’t a lot for Donovan to complain about in regards to his team. But there has been one particularly troubling issue for the Gators as of late according to the coach.
“We’ve got to eliminate wasted possessions,” Donovan said. “Wasted possession to me is we got a bad shot, we turn it over or we just don’t take advantage of what is open. I thought in the second half we did a pretty good job against Vanderbilt there … we come down, there’s a turnover, and then [Will Yeguete’s] in a high-low situation with Pat [Young], and then he turns the ball right back over again.
“To me, that’s just two wasted possessions in the game. We lead the league in field goal percentage, we lead the league in three-point — we need to get a shot up at the basket — and not only a shot, we need try to demand and get a good shot.”
The month of March often proves to be extremely rewarding to teams playing at their peak. Donovan said the Gators need to strive to make every outing better than their last, but there have been several games which have stood out to him thus far in terms of his team’s performance.
“We had games where I thought we played at an exceptionally high level,” Donovan said. “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 did it at a high level — Kentucky — here we played it at a high level … I’m hopeful that our best game is in front of us. That’s the goal, to constantly keep doing it.”