Gators trying to regain fire
Florida coach Billy Donovan has noticed something missing from his team the last three weeks.
Ball security? Sure. Rebounding? Absolutely. Clutch shots in close games? Well, that, too.
Those tangible miscues are correctable, but Donovan says he's more concerned about one intangible missing element.
"I'm more looking at the whole body of work with the way we're playing right now and I don't like our fire, I don't like our intensity," Donovan said this week.
The coach doesn't know how the 13th-ranked Gators will regain it.
It could be a fatal flaw or the thing that gets Florida back on track as it heads into the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The top-seeded Gators (24-6, 14-4 SEC) have lost three of their last six games - all by six points or less.
Florida was outrebounded in losses at Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky, had costly turnovers late and missed shots down the stretch that could have changed the outcome.
Guards Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Pat Young have received the brunt of the blame.
Boynton missed two 3-pointers in the final minute against the Tigers and missed a jumper with 15 seconds to play against the Wildcats. Rosario turned the ball over at crucial times against Mizzou and Kentucky.
And Young was hardly a factor in all three games. He had two points and three rebounds against the Tigers, 15 points and five boards against the Volunteers, and 10 points and two rebounds against the Wildcats.
All of it is concerning for Donovan heading into the postseason.
But all of it pales in comparison to his team's recent energy and effort. He pointed to the way the Gators started both halves against Kentucky and to a lackluster performance against Alabama, a game in which first place in the league was on the line.
"I'm trying to help our team become great," Donovan said. "I'm not interested in just us kind of going through the motions here. I think just what I've witnessed in practice over the last three weeks. ... I mean, the Kentucky game I'm calling timeout a minute into the game and I'm trying to inject fire and passion. And we're not playing with fire and passion right now, not like we did against Marquette or Wisconsin or some of these games that we've played in our league where we've had that fire and passion.
"I don't think it's about making shots or missing shots or any of those things. I just think that our perseverance or resiliency needs to get better. They've got to enjoy the struggle a lot more. They've got to enjoy the struggle in practice and those kinds of things."
The good news for Donovan is he has five days to get his players better prepared for their next game.
The Gators play either eighth-seeded Georgia or ninth-seeded LSU on Friday.
Forward Will Yeguete, who missed most of Florida's struggling stretch while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, said Donovan has made it clear he wants more from the team.
"The way we started the past couple games, I think we should do a better job just coming out and being excited and being ready to play," Yeguete said. "We've been missing that the past couple games. As a player, I feel like you should always be ready to go, no matter what.
"We haven't had that fire the past couple games. Hopefully we can get it back soon."
If not, the Gators might have a tough time advancing to a third consecutive NCAA regional final.
"We need to get better in some areas," Donovan said. "They've seen the film. We've talked about it. Again, we have a great group of kids. ... We're going to get into a close situation again. There's no doubt about it. How will we respond? I don't know. What happened in the past doesn't mean it's going to happen again."
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