Florida won't get away with playing a half a game too often

Published: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

The football-basketball thing won't go away. This time it was Billy Donovan asking Urban Meyer to speak to the Gator hoopsters on Friday about how the UF football team attacked No. 1 Ohio State.

Among the things Meyer told the nation's No. 1 basketball team was that it would now set the tone for the Gator Nation's athletic teams.

For 22 minutes on Saturday, the tone was deafening. For an uncomfortable 10-minute stretch during the second half, it was more of a flat-line.

Florida saw a 25-point lead dwindle to seven against Mississippi, a plucky team that confirmed my contention that the bottom-feeders of the SEC are a lot better this season. But this wasn't as much about an Ole Miss comeback as it was about a Florida brain cramp.

"We lost the edge," point guard Taurean Green. "We had the edge in the first half. It was just carelessness."

And it also reveals what we should already know — even a veteran team with a lofty ranking and national championship rings doesn't always get it.

As many times as Billy Donovan has pounded into them the premise that when things aren't going well on offense you make up for it on defense, they didn't in the second half against the Rebels. So frustrated with Green's insistence on taking the inbounds pass to the corner into a double-team, Donovan said he may change the way his team brings the ball up the court.

"I'm at the point where I'm going to put him at the other end of the court," Donovan said. "He still insists on running down there (to the corner)."

Donovan was not happy with a nine-point win on Saturday because it should have been a 29-point win. His team had put on a passing clinic in the first half with 12 assists on 16 baskets.

But in the second half, 12 turnovers meant only 19 shots for the Gators to 38 for the visitors.

"Our older guys handling the ball against pressure wasn't very good at all," Donovan said.

And since his bench made Donovan "nervous" he felt he had to stick with the veterans even as another player dribbled when he should have passed or passed where he shouldn't have. So many deflections, one which ended up being grabbed in the stands by Donovan's wife Christine.

If Donovan was nervous about his bench, the 12,421 in attendance were nervous about what they were seeing. Even after an amazing three-point play by Joakim Noah following a pair of blocked shots on the other end put Florida up by 12, Ole Miss again cut it to seven and had a shot at trimming the lead to four when an Eniel Polynice three-point shot rimmed out after another turnover.

Florida survived thanks to a dunked rebound by Noah, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds, and a pair of free throws by Green.

But the fans filed out grumbling and the players left the court with mystified looks on their faces.

All of which was even more mystifying to Noah.

"Going into the locker room, we just won the game," he said, "and it's like we lost. We have to be happy. We can't walk into the locker room — just because of the expectations — and not be happy. We should be happy we're 4-0. I'm looking at the positives."

The positives were Noah's performance (although Donovan was not happy with his lack of movement on the baseline on in-bounds plays), an ankle-breaking move by Corey Brewer and an unblemished mark in the SEC. But Florida was set up to be 4-0 at the start of the SEC season with three home games and the only road contest against the league's worst team — South Carolina.

Still, 4-0 is 4-0 and the No. 1 ranking isn't going to slip away because of a nine-point win against Mississippi.

It should be enough to elicit smiles, but only Noah was smiling and chomping as he left the court.

"We have to get better," Al Horford said. "They totally outplayed us in the second half."

In this case, half a game was enough for the Gators. That won't always be the case.

Contact Pat Dooley at 374-5053 or dooleyp@gvillesun.com.Dooley's columns appear Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.



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