It’s highly doubtful that many Florida fans were surprised to see the Gators struggle during the first half on Wednesday against Georgia.
After all, Billy Donovan’s teams had previously lost three times out of their last four trips to Stegeman Coliseum, and this most recent trip came on the heels of the entire team hearing how they good they were for about four and a half days.
Was Donovan surprised? Of course not.
And to get his point across, he hit his team with the ole “How would you feel?” approach.
“I knew Georgia was going to come out (playing hard),” Donovan said on Thursday. “I told our guys, ‘How would you feel if you played on someone’s court and lost by 25 to 30 points?’ You’re going to come out and really want to play.”
It took a while for the Gators to realize — or at least publicly display — that they were in a real, live basketball game. Once they did however, Florida showed a trait only visible in truly good teams — the ability to recover from an early deficit, put its foot on the gas and keep it there.
“I thought the positive from a year ago to now was I’m not so sure last year’s team wins the game they won this year,” Donovan said.
“When things are not going well, how are they gonna respond? It was good to see our guys respond they way they did coming out of the half, because it was not a very good first half for us by any stretch of the imagination.”
However, after experiencing a loss (Kansas State) in which Florida never seemed to be in the game, to their recently dished-out spanking from start to finish (Missouri), it was a surely a welcome sight for fans to see Florida show the resolve normally reserved for championship teams by not letting a sluggish start bog them down for the rest of the game.
Yeguete Playing Big
With all due respect to the sudden white-hot Scottie Wilbekin, perhaps the most noticeable player for Florida as of late has been Will Yeguete — and not because of his hair (more on that later).
Yeguete has been all over the court for the Gators defensively, using his 6-foot-7 frame to pester smaller offensive players while also using his recently acquired upper-body strength to out-muscle players for rebounds.
If you thought you were the only one to notice this, you were wrong. His coach has, too.
“I think he’s done a very good job,” Donovan said.
Donovan cited Yeguete’s ability to guard virtually every position on the floor, including guards, as an example of his many strong attributes. Yegeute has battled through knee tendinitis issues throughout the season, but if there’s been any lingering effect as of late, he isn’t’ showing it. Said Donovan, “He brings incredible value to our team.”
Picking up the Slack
On Wednesday, the Gators experienced early foul trouble with both of their starting bigs in Patric Young and Erik Murphy. While their absence may appear to be the least affordable to Florida’s roster, Donovan said that at this point, the Gators can’t afford to lose anyone to foul trouble during games.
“Overall, when [Murphy and Young] are off the floor, it’s going to hurt any team,” Donovan said. “Any time a team gets into foul trouble, it’s going to hurt you. If Rosario, or Boynton or Scottie were in foul trouble, it hurts our team. We’re not a very deep team because of some injuries and (Casey) Prather being out.”
In case you were wondering, Prather is still out, and he will be until late next week at the earliest.
“He’s still had some discomfort when he’s tried to run,” Donovan said. “We don’t feel like it’s a severe high ankle sprain, but it’s enough where he comes back too early or too soon, this is something that’s going to linger. … We’ll probably reevaluate him before the Ole Miss game.”
It’s hard not to feel bad for Prather, who started two consecutive games (his first and second starts of the season) before getting hurt against LSU nearly two weeks ago. However, Donovan offered somewhat of a silver lining in the midst of Prather’s and the team’s almost never-ending bout with injuries.
“Our team this year, I give them credit from the standpoint that we’ve really yet to have a full complemented roster this season — it’s always been one thing or another,” Donovan said. “Our guys have stepped up. … They’ve done a pretty good job with it up to this point.”
Scouting Mississippi State
The Gators’ next task is yet another road game to Starkville, Miss., against Mississippi State. Although Yegeute admitted that he didn’t know too much about the Bulldogs, Donovan appears to have done his homework.
“They’re very aggressive, they play very hard,” Donovan said. “Certainly they’ve got a lot of depth in the backcourt.”
One of the backcourt players in which Donovan was alluding to was junior guard Jalen Steele, who leads the Bulldogs with 10.4 points per game.
“Obviously a really good shooter, a veteran guy in the back court,” Donovan said. “He’s always been a guy that can change the game with his ability to shoot the basketball.”
Florida’s 5-0 start in SEC play is only the fourth time in school history that such a run has occurred. The other years were 1961, 2003 and 2007.
The Gators had two former players — David Lee and Joakim Noah — named to the NBA All-Star game on Thursday evening. Donovan was unaware of the selections during his press conference (because it was five hours before the roster was announced), but he expressed joy in his former players’ success.
“It think it’s pretty impressive you know, I mean you’re probably going to have two guys in the Sophomore-Rookie game with (Bradley) Beal and (Chandler) Parsons which is great,” Donovan said.
“A chance to play in the All-Star game is pretty impressive. I’m proud of those guys. I think that the one thing about it is David Lee is having an incredible year. … He’s had more 20-point, 10-rebound games than anybody in the NBA and he’s really, really playing well and their team is doing well so I’m happy for him.”
Florida’s next home game (South Carolina) will also be Will Yeguete Mohawk night. Yeguete said the theme is “pretty cool,” but disagrees with anyone who thinks his hair is too high.
“I’ve got to go to the barbershop in a couple of days just to fix it,” Yeguete said. “People always tell me it’s getting high, but I don’t see it because I see it everyday I guess.”