BY: Jenna Ladd
After a tough season, the Gators are looking forward to have the opportunity to play again as they enter the SEC Tournament on Thursday against Alabama.
In their last meeting with the Crimson Tide, Dorian Finney-Smith had an amazing dunk that helped pull the Gators to a close two-point win, 52-50.
However, a lot has changed since then – Florida has lost leading scorer Michael Frazier and Alabama lost Ricky Tarrant, who was one of their key players. Each team has had to deal with injuries and adversity this season and will not be the same teams that faced off in January.
Billy Donovan believes that despite the obstacles thrown at them, his team has gotten better over the past few weeks. He is hopeful that they can pull together a collective effort to stay in the tournament, but it will not be easy.
Donovan confidently said, “You look at the result of winning and losing, but I have seen some growth and some progress and some strides in our team.”
Yet, the Gators still have more growing to do if they want to make it in this tournament. Coming from the Kentucky game where they simply made bad decisions and consequently gave up 17 turnovers, they need to figure out how to make the right calls in the heat of the game.
Billy commented on the Kentucky game saying, “When those guys are playing the game, they have to make those instantaneous decisions, and I thought the turnovers didn’t kill us, but they did hurt.”
Moving forward, they have their eyes set on finishing this season as strong as they possibly can. Obviously they want to win, but Billy is more focused on his team striving to improve their individual and collective performance that will result in them winning games.
Despite having a rocky road this year with words like desperation, adversity and lack of growth describing the team, Donovan refuses to look back negatively on this season. “Everything that has happened this year these guys is ,to me, an incredible foundation for learning,” he said.
Their expectations of how good they were going to be this year was “so far from reality,” in Billy’s words. He said he tried to relate to the team how hard they were going to have to work in order to win games during the offseason, but they wouldn’t fully understand until they began to learn by losses.
Coach Donovan described his team’s attitude in depth saying, “When you have a team of guys like that that don’t know, and that’s what they think reality is and they are so far from reality; now all of a sudden, it’s like ‘wow, I didn’t expect this’ or ‘why is this happening?’ So from there you go through a whole period of being in denial and were going to be ok… [then] you kind of hit rock bottom and that’s when you realize I need to get better… that’s really what’s happened to our team.”
However, he does believe that since the Bahamas trip the team’s commitment level and discipline has gotten better – even though it’s still not where it needs to be. This team is not overly talented or gifted, so they have to be resourceful and use each other in order to be a good team.
In order for this team to finish strong or have a good season next year, their mentality has to change drastically. Donovan said he would not be surprised if the team were to have the same problems as they did this season next year. Not that these players are not coachable, but just that they need to figure out how to compete and play at a consistent, disciplined and higher level.
Hopefully the players will get their heads in the game before Thursday and will be able to end this season of adversity on a high note.