Notebook: Florida defense continues to shine

The difference in talent level was easy to see on Sunday afternoon in the O'Connell Center. Savannah State came into the game with a 2-10 record and struggled to do anything offensively. Florida had the size and athleticism advantage, but the players and coaches on the Florida sideline credited the defensive effort for holding Savannah State to just 34 points on Sunday.

The first half wasn't pretty for the Tigers. Savannah State didn't reach double digits until there was 1:14 left to play in the first half. Florida held the Tigers to 24.5 percent from the field and forced 20 turnovers. The Gators scored 32 points off Savannah State turnovers, just two points fewer than the Tigers scored throughout the entire game.

"We are getting a lot more disciplined," Florida center Patric Young said. "It was never a matter of us understanding defense and not knowing what to do. It was a matter of doing the right thing all the time. Any team can do the right thing for a few plays in the first half, but it's doing it through the whole game. We definitely did that this game."

The biggest concern for Donovan heading into the season was his defense. He opened his press conference on media day, before the team even started practice, ranting about how far Florida had to come to be the defensive team they needed to be this season.

They've now held back-to-back teams under 32 percent from the field. On Sunday, the Gators held Savannah State to scoreless streaks of 5:27 and 8:13 in the first half alone.

"Our standard of play and mindset on the defensive end has improved since the beginning of the season," Michael Frazier said. "That has a lot to do with it.

The coaches have spent the last two weeks of practice changing things up. When the Gators are at their most tired point in practice, that's when the intensity gets cranked up. The coaches then force the Florida defense to get a stop. If it doesn't happen, they keep going until it does.

They'll go through that drill multiple times, trying to build the mental toughness into the players that it isn't always easy. The message was clear on Sunday.

"That definitely carried over to today," Frazier said. "When we get tired and complacent, we don't want to do our job. In practice, they keep us on our toes so we don't know what's going to happen. That carries over into the games.

"The expectations are high for this team. We came into this game knowing they weren't going to be as good as the team's we've played, but (the coaches) were telling us that we have a standard that we play at. It doesn't matter what team we're playing."

The coaches like what they're seeing, too.

"When you hold a team to 34 points, that doesn't happen by not giving a good effort," Donovan said. "Our guys gave a really good effort on that end of the floor."

WALKER CREATING A ROLE: DeVon Walker played 23 minutes off the bench on Sunday and is starting to earn a role. He suffered a foot injury while the Gators had a short roster early in the season, and when he got back on the court, he wasn't the same. It took time for him to get comfortable again.

"He was tentative," Donovan said of Walker after the injury. "He hadn't gotten an opportunity to play a lot and guys were starting to come back healthy. He was probably thinking, ‘where do I fit into this thing?' He was pressing a lot in practice."

In the days before Florida split for Christmas break, Walker started to get back to where he was early in the season. The coaches saw it and wanted to get him on the floor for an extended period of time on Sunday. The blowout win only gave him a greater chance.

"He's identifying what his role is," Donovan said. "I trust him, he plays hard and he's getting better. He can be, without question, a rotation guy for us."

WAITING ON WALKER:Freshman Chris Walker was in sweat pants and sitting on the bench Sunday, but he did put up some shots while the Gators were preparing to play. Donovan said he's unsure when his star freshman will join the team. He hasn't been told about Walker's status for Florida's next game on January 4 against Richmond.

Duke transfer Alex Murphy was also on the Florida bench Sunday. He should be eligible to practice with the team this week, giving the Gators an extra body.

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