Donovan plays guessing game with fragile UF


Published: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 11:54 p.m.

The e-mails have been coming fast and furious, certainly not with the volume of last October when Florida's football team was 3-3, but with some of the same ferocity.

Everyone has an idea what is wrong with Florida's basketball team, the one that sent so many fans home early on Wednesday night after a second numbing loss in a row.

It's the coach.

It's the guards.

It's the forwards.

It's the bench.

But let us take one thing into heavy consideration here. Florida has lost four games to four pretty good teams. All four will likely be in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season. The way Louisville is playing, the Cardinals could be a No. 1 seed. Mississippi State is climbing its way up in the rankings after a soft pre-conference schedule left the Bulldogs ignored.

That said, there is something not quite right with the Gators.

They ebb and flow like the tide, looking great one night and awful days later. They play excellent defense one game and matador defense the next. They shoot lights out, then fire up enough bricks to build a wall around the O-Dome.

What this team lacks is consistency. It's up to Billy Donovan to bring it out in the Gators.

Just reading his body language, I think Donovan is struggling more with this team than any since his first year as the Florida coach. Every time he thinks he has it figured out, he doesn't.

Certainly, this is a young team, one of the youngest in America. Donovan has one senior in Bonell Colas, who peaked when he hit the game-winning shot against Arizona. Colas is a role player who starts because Donovan likes to bring Adrian Moss and his energy off the bench.

Florida's star players appear frustrated. You could see in Wednesday night's game when players taken out of the game walked past their subs without slapping hands.

It is a fragile team, one that can't stand any more injuries like the one that sidelined Christian Drejer. At risk right now is Florida's streak of 20-win seasons. It stands at five in a row and four straight times the Gators have accomplished that goal before post-season play.

To finish with 20 wins in the regular season, Florida has to go 9-3 the rest of the way, which right now doesn't seem likely considering that UF has two games left with Kentucky.

But the good news is that the remaining schedule is favorable with five road games that are winnable.

This is a struggling team, one that found its identity and lost it just as quickly. The freshmen have to grow up in a hurry, the veterans have to hold the team together.

More than anything, Donovan has to figure out the best way to use the talent he has. He's struggling as well.

Anyone who doesn't think he can pull it together hasn't been paying attention. It will be interesting to watch.

  • BACK IN ACTION: Although it appeared that former Gainesville High and Florida basketball player Orien Greene would be academically ineligible for the season at Louisiana-Lafayette, he's finally playing again.

    Greene took a correspondence course during the winter break and regained his eligibility.

    He played his first game Saturday in an 85-64 win over New Orleans. Greene scored seven points, had three rebounds, three assists and three steals.

    Meanwhile, another former Gator - James White - is averaging 9.1 points and 3.4 rebounds for Cincinnati.

  • ALL-SEC: Even though several members of the panel are friends of mine, it's difficult to take seriously ESPN's Silver Anniversary SEC team.

    Not without Charles Barkley.

    Barkley was a dominant player in the league on both ends of the court. When you see a guy who is 6-foot-5 at best getting every rebound and posting up taller players and you leave him off the team in favor of Chuck Person, it just doesn't make any sense.

    My team would have had Shaquille O'Neal at center, Barkley and Dale Ellis at forwards, Dominique Wilkins at one guard and Chris Jackson at the other. OK, Wilkins was a forward but I couldn't leave the "Human Highlight Reel" off the team.

  • ON THE TOUR: The first member of Florida's 2001 national championship golf team to gain full status on Tour is a player who came to the Gators as a walk-on.

    England's Ben Banks was hardly the most heralded golfer on that team, but he recently gained his card on the European Tour.

    Banks showed his ability to play in the clutch by shooting a 64 in the final round of the first stage of qualifying, 64 in the final round of the second stage and 63-67 in the last two rounds of the final stage.

    He got off to a rough start Thursday in the first round of his first event, shooting a 76 at the Dunhill Championship.

  • PAT-POURRI: A reader e-mailed me to ask why NASCAR can come up with a playoff system and college football cannot. I have no answer for him. . . . UF basketball recruit Taurean Green had his second 50-point game of the season for Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons Tuesday night against North Broward. He is averaging 30.4 points a game. . . . I thought the SEC basketball race was a mess and that was before Mississippi beat LSU for its first conference win. . . . Super Bowl tickets this year cost $500. Badges for The Masters are $175. And you get four days of action at Augusta. . . . I finally played Black Diamond this week. The holes around the quarries are indescribable . . . Just don't ask for my score. . . . Be safe.

    You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear Pat weekdays from 4-5 p.m. on WGGG 1230-AM in Gainesville and WMOP 900-AM in Ocala.

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