Gators face tough task in finale vs. Kentucky


Florida forward Erik Murphy, left, and Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli vie for the ball in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. Vanderbilt upset Florida 77-67. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Published: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 12:08 a.m.

Even in March, Florida coach Billy Donovan said he believes there's still enough time for the Gators to get better.

That's why Donovan is pleased that the Gators will have extra time to practice before their next two games. Florida closes the regular season Sunday at home against No. 1 Kentucky, then has a bye before playing the following Friday (March 9) in the second round of the SEC Tournament in New Orleans.

“I think the next 11 to 12 days for our team will be critical because we do have some periods where we can practice and focus on ourselves,” Donovan said.

Florida (22-8, 10-5 SEC) competed harder, but still dropped its second straight with a 77-67 loss Tuesday night at Vanderbilt. The Gators trailed 68-64 with 3:59 remaining after a Kenny Boynton 3-pointer, but missed their final six shot attempts from the floor.

“Our effort was terrific tonight,” said Florida freshman guard Bradley Beal, who led the Gators with 16 points. “I believe we played a lot harder than we did against Georgia. We gave it our all. We left it all out on the floor. It's unfortunate that they really just put us away at the end. But coming into Kentucky, we just have to play with the same amount of energy and effort.”

Florida's lackluster effort in its 76-62 loss last Saturday at Georgia left Donovan questioning the resolve of his team. But against Vanderbilt, Florida rallied back from a 12-point first-half deficit to tie the score late in the first half. The Gators again trailed by nine points early in the second half before going on a 20-10 run to take a brief 50-49 lead.

“I was as disappointed as I've ever been as a coach watching our guys walking off the court in Athens, Georgia, watching our team perform,” Donovan said. “I felt the total opposite here tonight. I thought we competed. I thought we played hard against a very good team.”

Yet as UF continues to reinvent itself with forward Will Yeguete (broken foot) done for the season, Donovan said there needs to be a continued intensity and focus in practice. Donovan said his players need to learn to fight through nagging injuries to be able to practice at a high level.

“Some of our mishaps, some of our lack of execution whatever it may be in certain situations was a byproduct of not being really on edge, locked in, practicing and utilizing that time to get better,” Donovan said.

Against Vanderbilt, Donovan continued to go with several three- to four-guard lineups in an effort to keep starting frontcourt players Erik Murphy and Patric Young fresh and out of foul trouble.

“I still think we have growth left in our team,” Donovan said. “We've obviously got to play a little bit differently and we did some of that stuff (against Vanderbilt) really with the spacing and trying to drive the ball to the basket.”

The Gators will try to avoid their first three-game losing streak since the end of the 2009-10 regular season with a win Sunday at the O'Connell Center against No. 1 Kentucky. The Wildcats take a 20-game winning streak into their game tonight at home against Georgia.

“With one game left, we've got to really come back and spend a day or two working on us,” Donovan said. “And then I think we've got to obviously toward the end of the week get prepared to play Kentucky.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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