After losing a third consecutive road game and conceding another late lead, questions about the Gators psyche and mental fortitude have taken the forefront.
During his press conference, Coach Donovan dismissed the notion of such losses creeping into his players’ heads. Donovan brushed aside suggestions of nerves being reason for the late-game struggles.
“I don’t sense that from our guys. You know— I don’t. I have had some guys and coached some guys where you could tell where they’re going to the free throw line or it’s that moment where they’re a little bit overwhelmed by it. I don’t sense that from our guys,” Donovan said.
And what about that ugly “c-word” being thrown around?
“For me, what that word means is in the moment you’re afraid or you don’t want it or you shy away from it,” Donovan said of the dreaded ‘choke’ tag. “I don’t get that from our team. I don’t see that. If anything, I see maybe an over-confidence or a ‘we’re going to be okay’ kind of attitude”.
While giving an all-clear to his teams’ noggin, Donovan questioned something far less tangible.
“I am disappointed, to be honest with you, in our team’s fire. I don’t see it. I don’t see it. I am more concerned about that,” Donovan stressed.
In recent outings, Florida has uncharacteristically started slow, both at the onset of games and at beginnings of the second half. It happened again versus Kentucky, putting the lethargic Gators in an early up-hill battle.
“I think it’s pretty evident if you look at the way the Kentucky game started. I mean we are down four-nothing and I’ve got to call a timeout,” a frustrated Donovan said. “We’re tied 31-all coming into the half— we come out to start the second half and they go on like a 6 or 7-0 run, and we are down by like 7 or 8 points”.
While Florida did win its prior two outings, including a conference-title clinching victory, Donovan’s reiterated concerns he recognized even in victory.
“To me that’s what is concerning — is you’ve got an SEC championship on the line with Alabama coming in who is in second place— and that clearly was not a team that was ready to play,” Donovan said. “And I have to take responsibility as a coach that that’s my job. And they were not ready to play for whatever reason. But there is not a fire that I sense from our team”.
As the post season looms, how do the Gators re-ignite?
Well, Donovan traces the issue back to its roots and with apologies to Allen Iverson—he’s ‘talking about practice’.
“That to me is all a product of practice. That’s the thing that is more alarming to me. We did not practice well at all going into Lexington,” Donovan said. “I am more concerned about that”.
The Gators’ coach said his team can expect some changes in practice, including some intense focus on rebounding— a recent regression he referred to as a “major problem” and one indicative of a larger issue.
“I was saying it before about a fire, a passion— to me that’s it, on the glass.
When you’re doing that— when you’re hitting and going and chasing balls and you’re doing that,” Donovan said. “But when you see our starting center with two rebounds in 24 minutes of play— that clearly to me is an effort issue”.
While the Gators have five days off before playing its opening game in Nashville, it will hardly be down time.
“We’re going to get back to this week of putting a bubble up on the basket. That will be one of the things we’ll do. And they’ll have to be able to block out because they’ll be no shots going in,” Donovan said. “I think in these situations you have to be willing to do things that are very, very uncomfortable, that a lot of people don’t enjoy doing to be able to move on and advance and win games”.
A ‘double-very’ uncomfortable practice? Uh-oh.
Look for a very, very, really, really re-ignited Gator team as they start SEC tournament play on Friday.