Gators Get Through Tough Week Unscathed

The unpredictable play of the Gators made last week difficult to gauge. Home games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky aren't usually the criteria for a 2-0 week. It took two nail biters, but Florida took a giant step forward by knocking off both teams. Before the season, this week looked like one of the toughest on the schedule. When it was over, the team's confidence had never been higher.

"It has been real important," senior forward Chandler Parsons said after the 70-68 win over Kentucky. "We handled Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, but then on Wednesday we came to practice ready to get ready for Kentucky. We're going to enjoy the heck out of this one (Saturday night)."

The two wins could be a sign of a veteran team beginning to mature. The Gators lost all four games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky last season, making these two wins even more important for the seniors.

It tested the mental strength of the team, too. They were coming of a disappointing 71-64 loss at Mississippi State last Saturday. However, instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the team got back to work and beat two top 25 teams at home.

"These last games have been tough," sophomore guard Kenny Boynton said. "This stretch has been tough on us."

The goal from here isn't tough to figure out. It comes down to the team maturing and learning how to forget the success from last week. Four of Florida's five losses have come the game following a big win.

With ESPN College Gameday being in town for the Kentucky game and playing in front of the first sellout crowd of the year, it's hard to argue that the Gators have experienced a bigger win this year.

The process of moving on from it mentally begins on Monday at practice, as the Gators begin preparations for South Carolina on Wednesday.

"Do we have the maturity level as a team to handle going forward from here?" Florida head coach Billy Donovan asked after the Kentucky win. "That has been our number one problem. We haven't handled them well. Whatever I'm doing, I've got to find different ways to get to them. When our guys have gotten knocked down, they usually find a way to get up and fight. It's when we have these moments that they want to (exhale). We cannot do that right now. That's the worst thing that we can do."

The players who spoke with the media after Saturday's win all stated it. They all know what the issue is. After the losses following big games this season, the players know that they have a reputation for playing with the next game with no energy.

"I talked to them about it in the locker room when the game was over," Donovan said. "We have a great opportunity to make a growth and step as a team going forward from this game."

The opportunity comes Wednesday in Columbia, S.C., where the Gators have some unfinished business after the Gamecocks won in Gainesville on January 15.

"We owe them one," Parsons said.

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