Finding the fire

While most were concerned about Florida's missed shots and another blown lead on Saturday, Florida head coach Billy Donovan was more concerned with another issue. The Gators are missing their fire. The non-conference schedule saw Florida practicing hard and blowing out opponents at will. The conference schedule came to an end with the fire missing during practices and games.

"I'm disappointed in our team's fire," Billy Donovan said on Monday morning. "I don't see it. I don't see it. I'm more concerned about that and I think it's pretty evident."

The concern has been there during the last few weeks. It reached a new high when the Gators were going through their practice time before playing Kentucky on Saturday. Donovan became immediately concerned after seeing his team's attitude on the court during the week.

The team was coming off clinching the Southeastern Conference title for the second time in three years. That could be the excuse for the lack of intensity, but Donovan had seen the fire starting to drop weeks before that.

What happened on Saturday was the overflow.

Donovan was angry, forced to call a timeout just 49 seconds into the game because his veteran team was out of position and simply being outhustled by the young Kentucky roster.

"I'm trying to help our team become great," Donovan said. "I'm not interested in us kind of going through the motions here. I think that's what I've witnessed in practice over the last three weeks."

The question now becomes whether or not the Gators can get the edge back. Donovan compared it to what the Florida program when through late in the regular season during the years the team won a national championship. That veteran roster became bored, with Donovan even recalling an attitude of "what are we playing for?" from the players.

Last year's team actually did the same thing, limping to the finish of the regular season. The Gators lost their final three games last season — at Georgia, at Vanderbilt and against Kentucky — before ripping off a run to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.

"You have some slip-ups you lose of some of that," Donovan said. "But for us right now with getting a chance to get sole possession of first place and then come back home against Vandy and to win it outright and we did not (play with fire)… that's concerning to me."

Even against Alabama last week, the Gators didn't play with the passion Donovan wanted. The game was a big one between the top two teams in the SEC standings at the time, but it took a late run for the Gators to pull away and give themselves a cushion at the top of the standings.

The players have noticed it, too.

"I would agree with that," Florida forward Will Yeguete said. "The way we started games the past couple games, I think we should do a better job just coming out and being excited and being ready to play. We've been missing that the past couple games."

The Gators now have an extended time before opening the SEC Tournament on Friday. Donovan, as he usually does, took the responsibility for the team's lack of fire, noting that it was his responsibility to change that in practice. He's hoping the start of the postseason will get the players more motivated, too.

Yeguete said it's time for the players to take that responsibility on themselves and improve.

"I think we have a whole week before our next game to think about what we have to do and how to come out and be ready," Yeguete said. "I think we're going to need a couple days off not playing. It'll get us right for the tournament."

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