Gators Trying to Deal with the Mental Part

The free throw struggles for Florida have become tiring. It's not easy for head coach Billy Donovan to watch his team throw the game away because of problems at the line, but he isn't going to change the way his team practices. Donovan wants to continue instilling confidence in his players.

The mental aspect of free throw shooting is the toughest part. Once it gets into the mind of one player who is struggling at the line, it starts to infiltrate the rest of the team. Even a player like point guard Erving Walker, who has hit multiple clutch shots for Florida, missed free throws against South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi State that would've given Florida a comfortable lead or a better chance to win.

The Gators missed their final five free throws at Mississippi State on Saturday, and that ended up taking them out of a close game.

"Coming down the stretch, if you want to put yourself in a situation to win, you have to make some of those plays," Donovan said. "Our guys understand the importance of free throw shooting, and I've got to help them get better there."

Instead of screaming at his team, Donovan has remained calm and encouraged his players. He knows they can make free throws. In practice, it isn't much of an issue. Once the game gets tense, that's when the issues present themselves again.

Donovan has put drills into practice where a random player must make two free throws in a row or the team pays the consequences through running. However, there's only so much that can be done to recreate a game environment.

"As a coach, you just have to keep working with them to get better," Donovan said. "I think shooting the ball is mental. I've got to instill confidence in them and work on those things. Once they get up to the line, they're pretty much on their own. There's not much I can do once they get up there."

FRESHMEN IMPACT: Facing a double-digit deficit on Saturday, Donovan wanted to infuse energy. He did so with a lineup that included four freshmen for most of the time. Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Patric Young used a full court press to create turnovers and give Florida a lead they would give up later in the game.

"They did a real good job for us. We were able to press a little bit," Donovan said. "We didn't get off to a real good start in the second half, but those guys came in and got the lead for us. Overall, I thought our guys coming off the bench was a huge bright spot. Maturity wise, them giving us that tomorrow (against Vanderbilt) will be important."

The young players saw time on the court at Georgia last Tuesday, and even a few meaningful minutes helps them increase confidence.

"We're coming along really well, especially compared to the beginning of the year when we were just scared about doing something wrong," Young said. "We aren't worried about that anymore. Coach knows we're going to come in and work hard."

BOYNTON BATTLING: Kenny Boynton has been streaky since he stepped on campus, but it was expected to even out this year as the Gators got more depth at guard. Instead, Boynton's shooting percentages haven't seen much improvement.

After scoring 24 points at Georgia on Tuesday, Boynton went 2-for-11 from the field and score four points against Mississippi State.

"He has to understand it's part of the game," Donovan said. "I've got confidence in him. He can't let it effect his intensity on the floor. It can't be a situation where he's playing well when the ball is going in the basket, but he's not when it isn't. That's a challenge for him as a player. He's a better player today than he was a year ago."

Fightin Gators Top Stories