Gators coming through late in games this season


Published: Monday, January 25, 2010 at 11:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 25, 2010 at 11:46 p.m.

There have been miracle shots, key defensive stops and even some clutch free throws.

Last week, a desperate Florida team found different ways to make plays down the stretch. The Gators (14-5, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) improved to 4-2 in games decided by five points or less with back-to-back close wins against the Razorbacks (71-66) and Gamecocks (58-56).

In both games, Florida was either tied or trailing in the final five minutes.

"In the SEC there are a lot of games like that where you have to do that," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I think in both the Arkansas case and the South Carolina case, we put ourselves in a position to be able to win the game and did some things."

While Chandler Parsons' game-winning 3-pointer against South Carolina was named ESPN's top highlight Saturday night, the UF junior forward pointed to senior Dan Werner's quick inbounds play and point guard Erving Walker's court awareness as important to the final outcome.

"People don't understand how perfect that had to go down," Parsons said. "Dan had to get the ball out fast, there had to be no foul call on (South Carolina guard) Devan Downey, Erving had to make an unselfish pass. Everything has to go in the right way and I was in the right place."

Parsons received 200 more friend requests on Facebook over the weekend.

"I recently got to 5,000 friends so I have to create a new (profile)," Parsons said.

Florida, meanwhile, is trying to create a new identity. Last season, Florida went 4-6 in games decided by five points or less, including heartbreaking losses at South Carolina (70-69), at home to Tennessee (79-75) and against Auburn (61-58) in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.

In the loss to South Carolina, the Gators couldn't close it out when Parsons missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw. Former South Carolina forward Mike Holmes got the rebound and then threw a full-court pass to former Gamecocks guard Zam Fredrick, who slipped behind the defense for a game-winning dunk.

In the Tennessee and Auburn losses, the 5-foot-8 Walker had critical shots blocked in the closing minutes.

So is it karma, maturity, or better execution? Walker said Florida's defensive intensity has helped. The Gators came up with several defensive stops and rebounds during a late 9-0 run that closed out the Arkansas game.

"We were giving teams easy points at the end of the game that they didn't have to work for," Walker said. "Now we're finally understanding how important defense is and making it tough for teams to score."

Parsons pointed to better practice habits.

"We've been practicing with really good focus," Parsons said. "Coach has been splitting it up like it's a halftime so we stay focused after we come back out. Just we've been really going at each other in practice. When the games come, we continue to do that and stay on edge."

Donovan said the team practices a number of late-game scenarios in practice, sometimes putting a minute or two on the clock and letting the game play out with one team down two points.

"We try to create as many situations as we can for our team just so at least they know what they are supposed to do, and then the next part is the execution," Donovan said. "We do try to work on those things and sometimes it goes your way and other times it doesn't."

Does luck play a factor? Had Parsons not heaved in a 75-footer at the buzzer to beat North Carolina State in overtime, Florida would be 3-3 in game decided by less than points.

"One-hundred percent lucky," Parsons said of the shot. "I've probably been at the gym some nights until 2 a.m., I swear to God, I've never hit it again. I've tried many times. I had my girlfriend rebounding for hours. I still didn't hit it."

Against South Carolina, Florida needed three straight free throws from freshman Kenny Boynton with 11 seconds left to ensure the final outcome. In a similar situation at Kentucky last season with a chance to send the game to overtime, former Florida guard Nick Calathes missed three straight free throw attempts in a 68-65 loss.

"It's exciting," Boynton said. "At the same time it's nervous, too. The crowd is loud and you just want to get it out of the way. I mean my first thing on the free throws was after I made the first one, it relieved me. I knew I could do it. So i just took my time on the next two."

Though just a freshman, Boynton is aware that Florida will need to continue to close out tight games in the future. Last season, Florida lost its final four games decided by five points or less, a big reason why the Gators failed to make the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season.

The Gators next face Georgia at the O'Connell Center on Wednesday. The Bulldogs are coming off an upset of No. 14 Tennessee last Saturday.

"We just have to keep finishing off games," Boynton said. "No game in the SEC — I think even with Georgia beating Tennessee — is going to be easy. I think throughout every game we have to keep finishing off games just like the last one."

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