Gators Try to Solve Road Issues

There's a pattern developing in Florida's road games, and head coach Billy Donovan is doing his best to get rid of it. When the Gators aren't turning the ball over in other team's arenas, they haven't shot the ball well. The Florida defense has also allowed opponents to shoot a high percentage. That pattern has led the Gators to an 0-4 record in road games this season.

"I forgot what it feels like to win on the road, going into someone else's place and being able to beat them in their own house," Florida center Patric Young said. "I want that feeling again, and I know our guys want that feeling again."

The pattern wasn't something Donovan had to look hard to find. It has been the same thing in all four road losses, some more obvious than others. The Gators turned the ball over 16 and 20 times against Ohio State and Syracuse, respectively, but they played well enough to win. In the road losses where the Gators have been upset by Rutgers and Tennessee, it hasn't been pretty.

"When you go on the road and play good teams, if you do turn it over, shoot a low percentage or give up a high percentage-- that's a problem," Donovan said. "On the road, it becomes difficult to win when you're giving up 49% from the field and shooting 38-42% yourself, and on top of that, you're averaging 15-18 turnovers a game. That's not a formula on the road to be able to win."

There won't be a different routine or plan as the Gators travel to Columbia to take on South Carolina. They practiced on Friday in Gainesville and left early in the evening. Once arriving at the team hotel, the plan was to eat dinner and watch film Friday night. They'd also sandwich film watching around Saturday morning's shoot around before getting ready to play at 7 p.m.

Donovan doesn't think the routine is the problem. It's the team's understanding of what it takes to win on the road that has hurt the team.

The Gators have done this before. After players left for the NBA following back-to-back national championships, Florida was left with an inexperienced, young team. Donovan has admitted he didn't changing the team when Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Nick Calathes were freshmen, and their youth especially showed on the road.

Walter Hodge was the only player on that team with significant experience, while Dan Werner and Marreese Speights were also counted on to lead. Florida finished that season with a road record of 4-7 because of their inexperience in that situation.

"We were really a bad, bad road team," Donovan said. "I'm not saying we're going to be a bad road team the whole entire year, but there was a process they went through, and then last year, we became one of the better road teams in the country. We have a group of guys that understands what in front of them and has hopefully learned from experiences."

As players that stayed in the program progressed and learned how to win on the road, things changed near the end of their careers. While Parsons, Tyus and transfer Vernon Macklin were seniors last season, the team finished the year with a 9-3 record on the road.

The only players on that team that had major roles were Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker. The Gators have plenty of talent on this year's team past that duo, but their experience on the road in league play is important.

Young came off the bench to give Macklin or Tyus a breather, but being in the starting lineup is different.

"They knew how difficult it was to play a road game in this league," Young said of last year's leaders. "I didn't experience it until this year, and I didn't realize how hard it would be playing somewhere else where you have to focus and be together."

Experience is the biggest issue for this year's team. Freshman Brad Beal has never played in the big road environments until this season. Erik Murphy came off the bench and played sparingly in recent years. Casey Prather and Will Yeguete also didn't play much, while Mike Rosario sat out last season because of his transfer from Rutgers.

Donovan doesn't want to buy into excuses, but he knows there is a transition period that he hopes has begun.

"We have a lot of guys in situations for the first time going through something like this," Donovan said." The only two guys are Boynton and Walker that have been in these situations and have an understanding and experience of what goes into it. There's a learning process, as much as I want that to be expedited and sped up to figure it out, there are things they have to get better at."

A LOOK AT SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks have struggled in recent years, but they've played the Gators tough. Darrin Horn is starting his fourth season as the head coach at South Carolina. Since Horn took over, the Gamecocks have a 3-3 record against Florida.

"They've got a unique style of play," Donovan said. "They've been a good, solid team. Maybe not a team that has gotten into the tournament the last three years, but they've won games in our league. They play hard and have always been very competitive. You look at the final result of a game or a season for a team, but if you look at each game as a whole, they play hard and compete."

South Carolina has struggled on offense this season. The Gamecocks are 11th in the SEC with 63.9 points per game. Donovan said their offense used to center around Devan Downey, who they would hand the ball to with 10-15 seconds left on the shot and allow him to make plays.

Without Downey, they've struggled. Forward Malik Cooke is the only starter in double digits, averaging 12.7 points per game. However, they create plenty of extra opportunities with their effort on the glass.

"They're a really good offensive rebounding team," Donovan said. "They've relied on perimeter players that can get in the lane and put it up on the glass to force help and punish you on the offensive glass. They've always been one of the better shot blocking/offensive rebounding teams in the league. That always presents a problem for most people.

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