Quick Tempo Gives Florida a Chance

There wasn't time to change much. Florida had just played Kentucky last Sunday and spent the week preparing for Alabama or South Carolina. After winning on Friday, there wasn't time for Billy Donovan to change things, so he encouraged his team to go with its strength. Florida ran up and down the floor, pushing the tempo on offense, and fell just shy of No. 1 Kentucky in a 74-71 loss on Saturday.

The quick tempo wasn't a fluke. With forward Will Yeguete out for the season, the Gators don't have the depth in the paint to play a half court game with a team that starts Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis as its big men. With the quick pace, the Florida guards still penetrated early to set up the offense.

Donovan said the key was his guards waiting until Davis or Jones switched onto a perimeter player before attacking the basket. Even if there wasn't a layup available, and there rarely was, it created holes in the defense for baskets in the paint or three-point shots.

"You have to do what LSU did and just be extremely physical at the basket, and body all (of Kentucky's) cutters and those things," Donovan said. "And we don't necessarily have that kind of team. With Yeguete being out, I think the other thing you do is you need to play really, really fast. Really fast and force Jones and Davis and those guys to constantly have to run during the course of the games, misses and makes."

Despite Florida's penetration, the Gators managed to take just two free throws compared to the 20 Kentucky took. Those two came from Erik Murphy after he was fouled on a put back, and the junior made both of them.

Just as he pointed to the three-point line as the difference in Friday's win, Donovan pointed to the free throw differential as the biggest impact in Saturday's loss. He pointed to times when Patric Young was being pushed in the back on rebounds and there weren't whistles blown, but Donovan caught himself before going too far at the podium.

"I'll deal with the office on it," Donovan said. "It's probably the best way to put it. And I'll have a lot to say, too.

"And when I say that, it had nothing to do with us losing the game, so I don't want to take anything away from Kentucky. They deserve the game. They won the game."

Florida's big men combined for 23 shots on Saturday, but they only earned two free throws. The Gators still managed to have success in the paint, as Kentucky outscored them only 32-30, but the differential in attempts from the free throw line was too much for the Gators to overcome.

"I really thought the difference in the game to me was the fact that we got to the free throw line two times, and by far the most physical game that we have played in all year," Donovan said. "How we only got there two times is beyond me.

"But I thought that was a huge factor for us to be that close as we were with such a huge discrepancy. What we couldn't overcome was 20 free throws to 2. Okay. And then what we couldn't overcome was the rebounding margin, in particular the offensive rebounding."

For the first time in three matchups with Kentucky, the Gators shot the ball well from behind the three-point line. Florida combined to shoot 24.5% (12-49) from behind the three-point line in the first two meetings but shot 50% (11-22) on Saturday.

After suffering 15 and 20-point losses to Kentucky in the first two matchups, Florida freshman Brad Beal had a clear explanation for why his team made this game closer.

"I believe this time I think we didn't give up," Beal said. "Like the first two games, we kind of gave up down the stretch. But during this game we were down about six or eight, whatever it was, and we battled back and we ended up getting back in the game down two with a minute left."

Beal had 20 points on 8-15 shooting from the field and 4-7 from behind the three-point line. After leading the team with 16 points against Alabama on Friday, Donovan is starting to see the growth out of his star freshman.

"As he's gone through this year and gaining more and more confidence, and for him early, there was so much of a -- he never really had faced adversity. He never had dealt with shooting one for ten, three for ten, and being able to move to the next day and working. I think those things were all challenging to him, but actually did a really nice job I think as the year's unfolded of doing some of that."

The Gators will now await their fate as the NCAA Tournament bracket is announced Sunday night.

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