All about the SEC: Motivating the Gators
Sometimes, you don’t win even if you win.
Well, that’s the way Florida senior guard Erving Walker looks at it. The Gators play at South Carolina tonight, and they take an unsightly 0-4 mark on the road with them to Columbia. Florida already has lost twice as many road games this season as it lost last season, when it was an Elite Eight team.
Florida should beat South Carolina easily. But that’s what was said last Saturday when Florida played at Tennessee. One problem: The Vols dominated the listless Gators and won by 11.
Coach Billy Donovan’s reaction was to ratchet up the intensity in practice. The tactic worked, as Florida bounced back with a 70-48 demolition of Georgia on Tuesday.
The way Walker sees it, Florida is going to continue to have tough practices regardless. If the Gators win tonight, Walker said it makes sense for Donovan to continue the intense practices. And if they fall to 0-5 on the road, Walker said, the level of intensity of practice may actually increase.
“We’re in a lose-lose situation,” Walker, with tongue firmly in cheek, told reporters Friday.
Florida was expected to be one of two main challengers to Kentucky in the SEC race. After the Gators raced out to a 10-2 start, with the only losses coming at Syracuse and Ohio State by a combined 11 points, it looked as if the Gators indeed would be UK’s toughest competition.
But then came a double-overtime loss at Rutgers, which promptly followed up its win over the Gators by falling to a bad USF team. (The Scarlet Knights have beaten Connecticut, too, though.) Nine days later came the loss to Tennessee, which is 8-8 overall and 197th in the RPI.
Florida has won 15 in a row at home, but the Gators haven’t won a true road game since upending Vanderbilt on March 5, 2011.
While South Carolina’s RPI is marginally better than Tennessee’s (it’s 187th), the Gamecocks look to be the worst team in the SEC. They have lost eight of the past 11 in this series and 11 of their past 12 in league play. More good news for Florida: The road team won both meetings in this series last season.
“I forgot what it feels like to win on the road, going into someone else’s place and being able to beat them in their own house,” Gators center Patric Young told reporters Friday. “I want that feeling again. I know our guys want that feeling again. We just want people to know that we’re able to do it.”
Donovan said earlier this week that Florida’s loss to the Vols could be attributed, in part, to their lack of intensity.
Florida has a gifted backcourt, featuring Walker, Kenny Boynton, star freshman Bradley Beal and Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario. All but Rosario average in double figures, and Boynton leads the nation in made 3-pointers. But Florida’s ballhandling can by sloppy at times, and though Walker is 5 feet 8, he is not a true point guard. Young can be a powerful force in the lane. But the Gators aren’t that big, and while reserves Scottie Wilbekin (a guard) and Will Yeguete (an undersized power forward/center) always play hard, the Gators sometimes seem to lack grit.
“Certainly as a coach, you’re always disappointed when you got to admit this, but I really thought they played a whole heck of a lot harder than we did,” Donovan said. “My job, my responsibility as a coach is to get those guys prepared and ready to play at a level they need to. We did not play, in my opinion, with the level of energy that we needed to.”
His response came Sunday, when the Gators had an unusually hard practice. Coaches put covers over the rims to make sure the players focuses on rebounding and defense.
“Right now going forward, me being able to emphasize [defense and rebounding] in a competitive environment needs to happen more than maybe it’s happened in the past,” Donovan said.
Looks like Walker’s practice prognostication is going to come true.
3 to watch
Alabama at Mississippi State, Saturday, 4 p.m., SEC syndication/ESPN FullCourt: Expect a defense-minded game. Alabama is the best defensive team in the league, and its perimeter defense has been stifling. On the other hand, the Tide is horrible from 3-pioint range, and Mississippi State’s size and physical nature could prove bothersome. This is the start of a difficult three-game stretch for Alabama, which has Vanderbilt and Kentucky in its next two games.
Mississippi State at Ole Miss, Wednesday, 9 p.m., Comcast-Charter Sports Southeast/ESPN FullCourt: This is the middle game in a tough three-game stretch for Mississippi State, which plays host to Alabama on Saturday, plays at its archrival Wednesday, then is at Vandy next Saturday.
Vanderbilt at Alabama, Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN2: Here’s the Tide again, with the middle game in its tough trio of contests. Alabama’s perimeter defense will be put to the test by Vandy. Conversely, it will be interesting to see if the Tide’s physical nature and athleticism bothers Vandy, which still has to prove it isn’t soft.
[Weekend watch: Hoosiers aim for sweep of Buckeyes]
Alabama G Trevor Releford: Releford, a sophomore, has been on fire of late. In his past five games, Releford is 35-of-48 from the field (72.9 percent). He is averaging 17.2 points during that span. For the season, he is hitting 86.9 percent of his free throws.
Vanderbilt G John Jenkins: He leads the nation in 3-pointers per game with 4.0. He has hit at least four 3-pointers in 10 games and has made a total of 25 in his past five games. He is shooting 46.2 percent from beyond the arc for the season, and is at 58.1 percent in the past five games.
Arkansas G B.J. Young: Young, a freshman, had 24 points in his SEC debut against Mississippi State. His point total was tied for second-best by any player in a SEC opener. In two league games, he is averaging 19.0 points on 65.2 percent shooting from the floor.
Auburn: The Tigers are one of three winless teams in league play, and while they have played solid defense, their offense has been atrocious. In their past three games, the Tigers are averaging 48.0 points and shooting a brutal 31.6 percent from the field. Auburn also is just 8-of-39 (20.5) percent from 3-point range in that three-game stretch.
Florida G Erving Walker: Over the past five games, Walker has averaged 31.4 minutes – but shot just one free throw. In the three games before this five-game streak, Walker was 25-of-28 from the line.
Alabama F JaMychal Green: He has scored just 26 points in the past three games. He was far more productive earlier this season and still is averaging 14.2 points this season.
Good win last week
Arkansas 98, Mississippi State 88. The Hogs played their best game of the season in rolling past the Bulldogs. Arkansas’ point total is the most allowed by the Bulldogs this season; indeed, this was the only time Mississippi State had allowed more than 75 points and just the second it had surrendered more than 68. Arkansas isn’t going to the NCAA tourney, but results like this mean the Hogs have a shot at the NIT.
Bad loss last week
Tennessee 67, Florida 56. Florida’s problems on the road were discussed in the opening section. That said, the Gators’ offensive ineptitude against the Vols was alarming.
Kentucky freshman C Anthony Davis leads the nation with 78 blocks. That is just five shy of the UK single-season blocks record, held by Andre Riddick (1993-94) and Melvin Turpin (1982-83).
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