After cruising through two late week tests which found the Gators victorious against both Texas A&M and Missouri in the span of three days, No. 8 Florida found itself beginning its ascent back into the spotlight as one of college basketball’s most fussed about teams over the weekend.
Earlier in the season, the Gators experienced a similar period of national-hype brought upon by their success over non-conference opponents such as Wisconsin and Marquette, as Florida easily dispatched of its first seven opponents by an average of 22.7 points per game.
However, not too soon after the hype machine had begun to churn, the Gators lost their first game of the season against Arizona, and a week later, promptly dropped a second contest.
Now, with a plethora of attention being heaped back onto his team, Florida coach Billy Donovan says that the only way to avoid complacency is to continually strive to improve.
“I think it all comes down to our ability and our mentality to be better,” Donovan said on Monday. “Looking at the Missouri game, Texas A&M, last time we played Georgia, there are still areas that we can improve on. I think that our guys having maturity and understanding the process of everyday, the length and time of the season.”
Florida managed to blowout the visiting Bulldogs when it opened conference play less than two weeks ago, but Donovan said Georgia was at a disadvantage against the Gators, as the Bulldogs were without two players including starting center Donte’ Williams.
Although the Gators have won 16 of the last 19 games they’ve played against Georgia, Florida has had trouble with the Bulldogs at Stegeman Coliseum as of late, dropping three of the last four games in Athens, including a 14-point loss last year. In fact, during his tenure as the Gators’ coach, Donovan is just 9-6 against the Bulldogs on the road.
However, Donovan said on Monday that there is nothing to be taken from Florida’s past experiences in Athens, Ga., other than knowing that it is a tough environment to play in.
“It will definitely be a tough game,” Donovan said. “They are coming off a good win themselves against LSU. The last couple years, as you mentioned, we have gone up there and not won, but I don’t think there is anything that we can take from those games. This is its own separate identity, its own separate game and its own individual challenge.”
When the Gators do take the floor on Wednesday, they will again be without the services of junior forward Casey Prather, who has missed the Gators’ last two games since sustaining a high-ankle sprain in the first half during Florida’s game against LSU.
Donovan said that there has been progress for Prather, but both the coaching and training staffs don’t want to push him too hard, too soon.
“We kept [Prather] in the boot, but yesterday was the first day he got to take the boot off,” Donovan said. “He started to rehab yesterday. My guess would be that he would definitely be out the rest of this week.”
Despite a litany of injuries this season, the Gators have managed to find players to fill-in for fallen teammates and hardly skip a beat. Donovan offered praise for his team’s ability to not let injuries hinder the outcome of games.
“I think you have a lot of coaches that always say the same thing, ‘We’re not going to use injuries as an excuse,’” Donovan said. “It’s one thing to say that and another thing to believe that. I think our team has done a pretty good job this year.”
One area which has appeared to remain unaffected by the Gators’ injuries has been the team’s defense.
The Gators have been impressive all season long on the defensive end of the floor, and Saturday’s game highlighted just how much pressure Florida is putting on opponents, as it held high-scoring Missouri to 52 points, 25 shy of its season average.
According to Donovan, while the defensive effort has remained consistent, each game presents its own unique challenge.
“I think our guys have done a good job at this point in time with preparation, scouting, personnel, understanding what teams are going to try to do,” Donovan said. “Those are the things from a preparation standpoint, those guys being locked in to what we need to do because every game changes.”