Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Donovan's Wish: Better UF Defense; the Gators' Effort in SEC Play Hasn't Pleased Their Demanding Head Coach

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Donovan's Wish: Better UF Defense; the Gators' Effort in SEC Play Hasn't Pleased Their Demanding Head Coach

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL DIROCCO

GAINESVILLE - Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan presented the idea to his players this way:

Imagine a blank sheet of paper with a line dividing it into two columns. The left is labeled "winning," the right is labeled "points, minutes, assists, recognition." Then he asked his players to pick the column under which to write their name.

But, Donovan said, if you want your name on the left, you must truly make a commitment to play much better defense - because what you've done for 24 games isn't close to enough.

"They say the right things, like, 'Defense is important,' but I don't know if they internally believe it," Donovan said as the Gators (19-5, 6-3 Southeastern Conference) prepared for today's home game against LSU (8-14, 1-7). "I go more off their actions and how they look when they're doing it."

They haven't looked good. In nine SEC games, the Gators rank 10th in field-goal percentage defense (46.6 percent) and seventh in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (35.2 percent). Three teams (Ole Miss, South Carolina and Arkansas) shot better than 50 percent from the field against UF, and three (South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia) shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range.

After his team's 77-67 victory over Georgia on Saturday - in which the Bulldogs received a career-high 32 points from Sundiata Gaines - Donovan criticized his team's defensive effort. He did it again Monday.

"I don't think we're going to be this great lock-down defensive team and just shut people out and hold people to 50 points, but we can do a better job," Donovan said. "I think it's more of a mind-set, it's more of a commitment, and I think it's more ... that they really believe that's what they've got to do to win at this level. I'm not so sure they really believe that yet because they've won with their offense at times more so than with their defense.

"Our team will get hardened by losses and [poor defensive play] is going to keep on rearing its ugly head every single day in front of us until we deal with it."

Donovan knows his team has limitations. The Gators aren't physically big or strong, and they're young (five freshmen, three sophomores). Veteran teams can see what's developing on offense and make adjustments, but younger teams are constantly reacting, which often means running at shooters on the perimeter late or making the wrong decisions.

Donovan said the four older players - sophomores Dan Werner, Marreese Speights and Jonathan Mitchell and junior Walter Hodge - aren't much of a problem. They understand, through their experiences on UF's past two NCAA championship teams, that defense must be a priority. They're harping on it as much as Donovan is, but the younger players still don't quite understand.

"Guys have got to make a decision whether we want to guard or not," Werner said. "The only way we can win is to guard. …

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