UF defense faces test at Vols
Published: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 12:43 a.m.
As the baskets mounted and Tennessee kept blazing up and down the court, all that weary Florida players could do was watch.
Today on TV
Who: Florida at Tennessee
When: 9 p.m.
On air: ESPN, 103.7 FM, AM-850
Florida left Thompson-Boling Arena humbled in a 104-82 loss to the Vols a season ago that exposed its glaring defensive deficiencies. No one escaped Florida coach Billy Donovan’s wrath in a postgame locker room address after the Gators gave up their most points since allowing 116 to Duke in December 1998.
“They killed us,” Florida sophomore forward Chandler Parsons said. “We just went in there and didn’t play defense, didn’t block out.”
A chance for redemption comes tonight, when Florida (18-3, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) plays at Tennessee (12-7, 3-2) in front of a national-television audience. Florida’s fourth annual appearance on ESPN’s College GameDay will give the Gators a chance to show the rest of the country that they’re a better defensive team.
“This is going to be a big test for us,” Parsons said. “They have a lot of speed, a lot of athleticism. Guarding them will be tough, will be fun. I think we will be up for the challenge.”
Statistically, the Gators are off to a better defensive start than last season, when they finished near the bottom of the league in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and 3-point field goal percentage defense. Through the first six conference games this season, Florida ranks third in the league in scoring defense (65.7 points allowed per game), fifth in field goal percentage defense (43.2 percent) and second in 3-point percentage defense (26.7 percent.)
Part of Florida’s early success on the defensive end of the floor has come from the ability to change looks. The Gators have alternated from press to man defense to matchup zone through courses of the game to keep opposing teams honest.
“They’re playing as good of a matchup zone as there is out there,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said.
Donovan admitted that he’d like to play more man defense, but realized earlier this season that it wouldn’t be possible given his personnel. Florida played predominantly man-to-man last November at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Classic in Kansas City. Alex Tyus and Dan Werner were in foul trouble throughout Florida’s 89-83 loss to Syracuse and narrow 86-84 win against Washington.
After consulting with the coaching staff, Donovan realized UF’s defense needed a makeover. Florida went through the rest of the non-conference schedule pressing more and playing more zone.
“We’re still trying to do a lot of different things in terms of the middle of the possession, changing to a man, switching the fronts of our zones whether it’s a 2-3 or the 3-2,” Donovan said. “The big thing we’re trying to do is break offensive flow. We just don’t want them to come down and see the same thing over and over and start to get in a rhythm and start to get comfortable and start to go after a player.”
Florida’s players have taken to the matchup zone, which relies heavily on communication.
“Last year we ran a similar zone, but it was more confusing,” Werner said. “We had more 3-2 instead of the way we are now. I think guys last year were a little more confused about where they had to go. Coach made it simpler this year.”
Added Parsons: “Being a smart team with a pretty high basketball IQ, I think we’re really good at playing that defense, just knowing how to rotate, knowing how to bump across. We have guys that are communicators. It’s a pretty hard defense to play against.”
Florida’s defense will get tested more in the coming weeks. Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky, UF’s next three opponents, rank second, fourth and fifth in the league in scoring offense.
“Going forward, the personnel we’re playing, there’s going to be a lot more than one or two guys,” Donovan said. “There’s going to be three or four guys that are going to have a potential to have a big night. So who you guard, how you are rotating, who is in your area ... I think we’re just trying to evolve and get better.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or email@example.com.
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