Gators improving in close games

While the Gators advanced to the Elite Eight last season for the third straight time, there was a black cloud around their record in close games. Florida ended last season 0-6 in games decided by single digits. This year, the Gators are 6-2 in games decided by less than 10 points. The execution has been much better for Florida this season late in close games.

When the Gators didn't earn one of their 29 wins last season by single digits, Billy Donovan didn't panic about it. He kept the same approach to scouting the situations that he did in years before. He didn't get too emotional about shots going in or not down the stretch, and he kept the same mindset for free throws.

If they didn't fall late in the game, the Gators would continue to work on them in practice. However, his focus was more on the execution happening late in games.

"The biggest thing I try to look in those situations is what we're doing from an execution standpoint, and understanding from an execution standpoint that different things are going to happen," Billy Donovan said.

On Saturday, Scottie Wilbekin executed perfectly. He ran the exact play Florida wanted at the end of regulation -- an option play giving him the change to drive to the rim or kick out to Dorian Finney-Smith for a three -- and he followed it by hitting six of eight free throws in overtime. He ran the offense under control and didn't lose composure.

Florida played well down the stretch against Florida State and played perfect defense against a last-second play the Seminoles drew up to get a shot at the win. Against Connecticut, the Gators defended well on the last possession but a fluky bounce to Shabazz Napier gave the Huskies the win.

In all of the late game situations, regardless of whether they end in a win or loss, Donovan has been happy with the way his team is handling them this year.

"I think our guys have been in those situations," Donovan said. "I think our guys have a better understanding of what we're trying to do and when you are in those situations it doesn't necessarily mean that just because you went through it last year you are going to end up on the winning side of it, because I think any time you are getting into those situations, anything can happen."

INJURY UPDATE: Florida forward Casey Prather is out for Tuesday's home game against Georgia. The Bulldogs bring a 2-0 record, including a win at Missouri last week, into the O'Connell Center against a Florida team without its leading scorer.

"He's not playing tomorrow," Donovan said. "He still has issues. He's getting better. He's progressing. When he'll be available to play, I don't know but he's out tomorrow."

Scottie Wilbekin is still dealing with soreness but was scheduled to practice on Monday. Patric Young practiced on Sunday and would also be on the floor for Monday's practice. Donovan called both of them "full go," and they're expected to return to the starting lineup on Tuesday.

HILL NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Kasey Hill started at Arkansas and was second on the team with 37 minutes played because of the injury to Wilbekin. Hill turned the ball over five times -- only one other Florida player had more than two turnovers -- and scored six points with a team-high five assists.

The improvement needs to come on the other end of the floor.

"He's still has got to get better defensively," Donovan said. "That's got to be an area of focus for him. I think he's trying. I think he has made some strides in a positive direction, but he has to continually get better there. He has a tendency that I think a lot of times when you're young and not playing a level of talent that he's playing against on a regular basis, you fall asleep and you're late, you don't guard an action the correct way, you get exposed."

Most of it comes with repetition. As Hill faces more opponents and sees more sets while he's on the defensive end, he'll get more used to knowing what to expect. When he gets more comfortable, it'll make his instincts better.

"So much being a good defender is the idea of having a really good understanding of what's happening," Donovan said. "When you can read the way the floor is moving, you can anticipate different things that are coming."

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