Gators pass on cutting down nets

Florida clinched the Southeastern Conference title for the third time in four years on Thursday with Kentucky's home loss, keeping the Gators from being able to celebrate by cutting down the nets at home. Billy Donovan spoke with his team on Friday about clinching the championship, but the Florida seniors didn't want to cut down nets on Saturday. Their eyes were focused on the future.

"We still have more to do," senior forward Casey Prather said. "The season is still going on. We've got another game against Kentucky Saturday and it's our last home game. If we win that, we can cut them down then. We knew we have more of a journey to go."

The Florida coaches sent a text message to the team on Thursday night, congratulating the group on the championship but reminding them of the goals still left on the table. When the group got together to practice on Friday, Donovan wanted to address the situation in person.

He wanted to make sure the team knew how proud he was, but he also wanted to address the thought of cutting down the nets. The last thing he wanted was to get into Saturday's game against LSU and have uncertainty with his players, wondering if they would be cutting the nets down after the game.

The senior didn't want any part of it.

"I trust those four seniors, and they didn't want to do anything like that," Billy Donovan said. "I didn't want to do it either. There's still a lot in front of our team to play for."

The message got through to the players. For as well as the Gators have played, currently riding a school record 21-game winning streak, Donovan told his players that they didn't have anything to do with the fact that the championship was clinched on Thursday night, when the team was away from the facility and not on the court for a game.

"We felt it was given to us when Kentucky lost," senior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "I was sitting on my couch watching TV. I didn't do anything."

That's why Donovan wanted to have an open conversation with his team about what happened. They accomplished one of their preseason goals, but with multiple conference games remaining before they'd have a chance to accomplish even more of their goals, he wanted it clear the air.

"Our guys are pretty grounded," Donovan said. "I've never been a believer that you're playing for seeding. I don't think our guys even know what that means or how that works. I don't think half of our guys know what the RPI is, as much as I tried to explain it before the season."

The maturity of this year's team has made it easier for them to buy into Donovan's message. Throughout the season, the coach has handled it the same way. They have dodged any topics, whether rankings, tournament seeding or conference standings.

Donovan wanted it all out in the open to avoid his team playing tight.

"You don't want to play like you're trying to protect something or you're back on your heels like "we're trying to protect being No. 1" or "we want to keep this streak going." Once you get into trying to avoid things and protect things from happening, you get tight, frozen and don't play," Donovan said.

And it's working. With Florida's 18-point win over LSU on Saturday, the Gators are now two games from completing a perfect conference season. The players didn't want to talk much about it, but when asked about the importance of a perfect conference season, Wilbekin downplayed it.

"I would say important is the wrong word," the point guard said. "Exciting is the word I would use. It's a great opportunity."

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