Donovan Wants Experience to Produce Toughness

Billy Donovan wasn't surprised by Saturday's outcome. The lack of effort and intensity by his team was so predictable to the Florida head coach that he predicted it to the team in the locker room before the game. He watched the Gators practice all week without the energy he wanted. Despite calling the team back for two practices on Thursday, things didn't change.

"For our team the last couple weeks, I have not been pleased," Donovan said after Florida's 75-70 loss to Tennessee. I don't know if it's focus or what it is."

Whatever it actually is, Donovan wasn't surprised at what it produced. The lack of intensity showed early as the Volunteers did what they wanted at both ends of the floor. The Tennessee pressure defense gave Florida fits. The Gators were tentative instead of attacking it, almost looking as if they hadn't seen it before.

It was actually the second game this season that looked this way. Florida suffered a loss in Knoxville early January to open conference play because of the way Tennessee attacked.

Florida turned the ball over 15 times, including nine in the first half.

The process of hardening begins now. Donovan expected it to come after a 20-point loss at No. 1 Kentucky on Tuesday. In order to help the Gators grow up, there had to be resistance on the other side. The Gators have experienced six losses this season, but none of them were like Saturday.

It sounds obvious, but for a team to harden its mentality, there have to be moments like Saturday.

"That's one of the greatest challenges in coaching that there is," Donovan said. "Joakim Noah and Al Horford weren't (hardened) either. There was a mentality of what goes into preparation to go out and win. I'm spending too much time in practice dealing with stuff I shouldn't be dealing with instead of dealing with preparation. A lot of it is our maturity level of growing up and growing through those things."

Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, the two most experienced players on the team, have been through ups and downs. Despite that, Donovan wants to see more from them. He also pointed out that this is Walker's first year as the team's vocal leader. Walker is quiet and kept to himself most of the time, so it isn't a role he thrives in.

"Part of the issue is Kenny Boynton and Erving (Walker) have been through it and battle tested, but Chandler Parsons was a great outlet for Erving Walker," Donovan said. "When Erving got into taking ill-advised shots and overpenetrating, you could put it in Chandler's hands for him to facilitate some offense and get Erv off the ball.

"I'm not so sure how hardened Erving is because there was always someone to help him through. Now, all of this is falling on his shoulders in terms of running our team."

Losing seniors like Vernon Macklin, Parsons and Alex Tyus after last year but the Gators in regroup mode. Macklin and Tyus weren't players that most saw as key components, but their leadership went under the radar. Without the leaders last year's team looked at and no leader stepping up this season, Florida is in its current position— floundering and searching for identity.

The opposite bench on Saturday provided a good view of Donovan's point. Tennessee doesn't have the household college basketball names that Florida does. They have players that served mostly as backups last season. They dealt with Bruce Pearl's eight-game suspension last year and a new head coach, Cuonzo Martin, this year.

They've been battle tested. And while their 13-12 overall record might suggest a lack of talent, the Volunteers have been through enough emotionally to move beyond the tough parts of a season and come up with a big win.

"Our guys have not been hardened," Donovan said. "There are a lot of similarities, as much as I hate to say this, as when Chandler Parsons was here as a freshman. There was not that hardening. I think (this team) has great guys, but they just aren't hardened enough."

INJURY UPDATE: Sophomore forward Will Yeguete played just two minutes because of a concussion. Yeguete blocked a Tennessee shot before falling head first into the padding at the base of the basket. He was bleeding and required 8-10 stitches. Donovan also said that Yeguete was fully knocked out when the head coach got over to check his status.

Yeguete failed a concussion test in the locker room and didn't return. Donovan said he was guessing without knowledge from the doctors, but he expected Yeguete to be doubtful for Tuesday night's game at Alabama.

Florida guard Mike Rosario was held out of the game with a hip pointer while Cody Larson wasn't on the team bench because of an illness.


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