The Florida Gators were hog-tied Tuesday night, but coach Billy Donovan was hardly tongue-tied in his postgame assessment of his squad.
Donovan did not mince words following an 80-69 road loss to Arkansas, a game in which the score was far closer than contest. The Gators, who entered the outing undefeated in eight conference games, had climbed the national polls to a No. 2 ranking.
And perhaps that was the problem.
“Winning, success — it’s a really hard thing to handle,” Donovan said on the Gator IMG Sports Network. “A lot of people have a hard time handling success. And I thought that we came out and did not play like we have played. And that was the disappointing part.”
While Florida (18-3, 8-1 SEC) did not handle success, Arkansas suddenly found it from the 3-point line. Entering the game as the conference’s 12th ranked team in 3-point field goal percentage, Arkansas blitzed the Gators with six from beyond the arc in game’s first several minutes. Despite the Razorbacks’ prior futility, it was a scenario Donovan feared and cautioned his team against.
“I really felt like the 3-point line was going to be an important key in the game because I knew they were going to keep taking them,” Donovan said.
He was right.
Despite it being a pregame focus, Donovan was miffed by his team’s attention the 3-point line and blamed poor defensive execution for a flurry that put the Gators in early hole.
“There were so many times our guys were standing there with their feet below the line, in good defensive position, but not even putting a hand up to like alter it, to change it, to make them think twice about shooting,” Donovan said.
The Razorbacks controlled the game wire-to-wire and built a lead that ballooned to as many as 28 points. And though Arkansas’ torrid shooting could not be dismissed, Donovan focused instead on his squad’s performance and mindset.
“For our basketball team to be down to anybody 25, 26, 28 points, that’s more of a reflection on us and not Arkansas,” Donovan said. “They played well; don’t get me wrong. But they’re not 28 points or 26 points better than us. They are when we show up like we did today.”
The confluence of a sharp-shooting opponent, a raucous crowd, foul troubles and an injury to Will Yeguete created the perfect storm for Florida’s fist conference loss. Still, Donovan dismissed any explanation for his team’s performance.
“We’ve dealt with a lot injuries and guys being in and out of games and those kind of things,” Donovan said. “So you have got to be resilient.”
Rather than resilient, Donovan saw a team that appeared unfocused and frustrated.
“When I see our players, you know, trying to talk to officials and saying they got fouled or ‘I got held’ or ‘I got grabbed,’ and then our guys are going down there and missing lay-ups, missing free throws,” Donovan said. “We’ve got enough to worry about, taking care of our own responsibilities and never worrying about somebody else’s responsibilities.”
It was difficult to find a silver lining in such an outing, and Donovan hesitated to deliver one.
“For our team, as much as I don’t want to say this, I think sometimes getting humbled is a good thing,” Donovan said.