Billy Donovan walked into his post game press conference wearing a blue Florida Gators t-shirt, a far cry from the business attire the 47-year-old normally dons after games.
As the coach answered questions with his gold necklace in plain view, finally, towards the end of his interview, it was revealed why after just earning his 400th victory, he looked the part of a Florida student rather than the university’s all-time winningest basketball coach.
“Billy, is Patric [Young] in trouble for getting you with the ice bucket in the post-game locker room?” a reporter asked.
“It was a pretty good one,” Donovan said as a wide grin broke out across his face. “Basketball coaches don’t have that happen to them very often. I’ll tell you what, that was really, really, really cold. I mean, really cold.”
As the room exploded in laughter, it became clear in that moment just how satisfying No. 10 Florida’s 83-52 victory against No. 17 Missouri was for Donovan, his team and the 12, 597 fans in attendance at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
Donovan had downplayed win No. 400 all week long, citing the potential achievement as a nod more so to his players, both current and former, rather than himself. Even after the landmark victory was officially recorded however, Donovan still managed to deflect any credit in the most humble way possible.
“All those individual things as it relates to coaching — it’s much, much more of a reflection on the players I’ve had a chance to coach here,” Donovan said. “That’s really what it’s about. For me to be here and to be a part of 400 wins — and I don’t look at them as my wins, I look at them as University of Florida wins … I never, ever look at those things as being something I did — it’s always a winning thing. There was a lot people involved, I happened to be the head coach.”
Although Donovan remained unwilling to take credit for becoming only the third coach in Southeastern Conference history to reach 400 wins at one school, there is little doubt the coaching job that Donovan and his staff have done since the Gators’ six-point December loss to Kansas State has been impressive.
Through Florida’s first four games of SEC play, the Gators have outscored their conference opponents (UGA, LSU, Texas A&M and Missouri) by an average of 26.7 points — and they’ve done it by playing defense.
“They’re very sound defensively,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said after his team’s loss on Saturday. “They close down on driving lanes. They do a great job at only limiting you one shot. They’re a great block-out team. Billy’s done a really good job at getting those guys to buy in to play great defense.”
Before the season, Donovan expressed that his team had the potential to be great defensively. While the evidence to back up Donovan’s claim has been visible all season, on Saturday, the Gators showed the country just how good they can be, holding the Tigers 25 points under their season average, while also handing over to the Mizzou its worst loss since 2008.
“Every time we play against somebody who is a well-known team it is going to be a challenge, but we don’t just play one-on-one defense, we play great defense and each player holds each other accountable,” junior guard Scottie Wilbekin said.
Wilbekin had what was undoubtedly his best performance as a Gator, as the Gainesville-native posted his first career double-double, finishing with 13 points and 10 assists.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Wilbekin’s game however, came in the form of his defense. Wilbekin has turned into the Gators’ most reliable defender as of late, helping UF to hold known high-scorers such as UGA’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Texas A&M’s Elston Turner to figures well below their season averages.
Heading into Saturday’s game, Wilbekin was faced with arguably his toughest test of the still relatively young season, and again passed with flying colors, holding Mizzou’s Phil Pressey — who came into the game averaging almost 13 points a game — to two points and 10 turnovers.
“Scottie did a really good job — I think he is doing a great job running the team and giving people shots,” junior forward Will Yeguete said after the game. “I think he is going to keep getting better and our team is going to keep getting better.”
While Wilbekin received a lot of credit for his performance against Pressey, it was Florida’s big men who lent a helping hand in keeping the lightning-quick guard out of the lane on Saturday.
“Scottie did a good job on the ball, on [Pressey], but the big that was in the pick-and-roll did a really good job, and I thought our back side coverage … we did a pretty good job for most of the game,” Donovan said.
Although Missouri was without its leading scorer in senior forward Laurence Bowers on Saturday, Florida certainly sent a message to the SEC and the country with its play on Saturday.
“It lets (opponents) know that we are that focused and that ready to play,” Young said after his nine-point, eight-rebound performance. “If they cannot match our energy, then things are going to be pretty tough for them.”
The crowd on hand was one of the rowdiest the O’Dome has hosted in a while, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that this Gators team has certainly helped to bring back the buzz to the “House of Horrors.”
For now though, the Gators are focused on simply continuing their current level of play. The Gators head to Athens on Wednesday for another game against Georgia, who Florida beat by 33 points less than two weeks ago.
“If we keep playing like this, then national attention will come,” Kenny Boynton, the Gators’ second-leading scorer on Saturday said.
“Right now, we are just trying to keep playing.”