UF MEN'S BASKETBALL
Notebook: Florida overcomes early free-throw misses
Published: Saturday, March 15, 2014 at 8:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 15, 2014 at 8:11 p.m.
ATLANTA — Coming off a 1-for-6 day from the free-throw line against Missouri, Florida senior center Patric Young took an unconventional approach Saturday morning to try and get it fixed.
“I took five in a row with my eyes closed, just to get a feel for it,” Young said. “All net, too.”
Florida's free-throw shooting woes in the SEC tournament extended into Saturday's game against Tennessee. But when the Gators really needed to make them, they delivered.
Florida overcame a 1-for-7 start from the free-throw line by making 9 of its last 10 in its 56-49 semifinal win against Tennessee.
The biggest free throws came with the score tied at 45 with 4:39 left. After Tennessee center Jeronne Maymon was whistled for both a foul and a technical, Florida had a chance to build a four-point lead with four trips to the line. Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II made both technical free throws, then Young added a pair to put Florida up 49-45.
Senior forward Casey Prather added a pair of free throws off a flagrant foul with 1:21 remaining that extended UF's lead to 53-49 with 1:21 remaining.
“I was just trying to encourage our guys to step to the line, you've got your misses out, just go up there and knock it down with confidence, get a good rep,” Young said. “For the most part everyone was doing that.”
Florida finished 10-of-17 from the line. For the tournament, the Gators are shooting 20-of-37 (54.1 percent).
Free-throw shooting has been an issue on and off for the Gators during the course of the season. Entering today's final with Kentucky, the Gators are shooting 66.6 percent from the free-throw line.
“We put time in during practice,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Hopefully that will be an area this time of year we can get better at because I think we're capable of doing that.”
Wanting to stay
With the Gators down 10 points against Tennessee in the first half, Donovan was asked if the thought crossed his mind if Florida would be better off losing in the SEC tournament semifinals and going home to rest for Selection Sunday. The Gators are assured of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament regardless of where they finish in the SEC tournament.
“I don't know how to answer that,” Donovan said. “That never really crossed my mind. When you're in there, you're competing to win.”
The Gators haven't won an SEC tournament since 2007 and are 3-4 in SEC tournament final games. Last season, Florida reached the SEC finals in Nashville, Tenn., before falling 66-63 to Ole Miss.
“Anytime you are playing in a conference tournament, it's always exciting to continue to move on,” Donovan said.
Vols a tourney team
After grinding through a third win this season against Tennessee, Florida players and coaches came away thinking the Vols are deserving of an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Including the SEC tournament, Tennessee (21-12) went 12-8 against league teams and posted an impressive non-conference win over ACC regular-season champion Virginia.
“They have two of the best offensive rebounders in our league, two huge bodies up front,” said Michael Frazier II, referring to Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. “I think definitely they're an (NCAA) tournament team, great coached team.”
Donovan also made a case for the Vols making the NCAAs in Cuonzo Martin's third season as UT coach.
“I believe they're an NCAA tournament team,” Donovan said. “I don't think there's any question about it. I think Cuonzo has done a great job establishing his culture and how he wants his team to play. You can see that they have improved as a team.”
Before the SEC tournament, Kentucky coach John Calipari said he made a “tweak” to his offense that would result in better production. In two tournament games, the Wildcats scored 85 points against LSU and 70 points against Georgia.
“I was pretty confident that it would work, that it would change what we're doing,” Calipari said. “But I was angry after I saw it. Why didn't I do this two months ago.”
Calipari joked he won't reveal what the “tweak” is, but Kentucky freshman guard James Young downplayed its significance.
“Coach hasn't really told us what the tweak was,” Young said. “We're just coming out here and playing, and just playing with each other.”
Former Gator and current Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford watched the game from the stands. Horford was on the last UF team to win an SEC tournament in 2007. … Against the Vols, Florida overcame a 10-point deficit for the first time since knocking off Ole Miss 64-60 on Jan. 26, 2012. … Frazier and Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin combined for eight steals against Tennessee. Frazier matched a career-high with four steals, including two big steals in the final two minutes of regulation.