Hitting the road for No. 11 Kansas doesn’t make it any easier.
Florida currently ranks 259th in the country with 63.5 points per game. It has happened because of a perfect storm that hit the team -- multiple injuries and shooting slumps. Guard Eli Carter (mid-foot sprain) and forward Dorian Finney-Smith (hairline fracture in hand) have been in and out of games this season, both playing through pain at times.
Michael Frazier’s shot hasn’t been falling like the first two years in his career. Last year, Frazier shot 46.1 percent from the field and 44.7 percent from behind the 3-point line. Through six games this year, Frazier is shooting 42 perfect from the field and 35.9 percent from 3-point distance.
Add in Kasey Hill, who is 14-50 from the field and 1-4 for 3-pointers, and the Gators have a backcourt not shooting up to its capabilities. Florida coach Billy Donovan said the team is getting open shots, but sloppy fundamentals in the follow through, balance or footwork give the players multiple things to improve on to help their shots fall.
“They’re open, but they’re just not ready to shoot,” Donovan said. “They’ve got to be able to play through misses and whatever’s going on in their mind.”
Ball movement isn’t the problem. Donovan is happy with the team’s unselfishness and shot selection. The Gators aren’t turning the ball over at an unusually large clip. They aren’t being forced into bad decision. They’re simply missing shots. Once that starts, it’s getting in the players’ heads and impacting the next shot.
“When Michael Frazier misses a shot, do you really have the internal confidence to believe the next one is going down? Dorian Finney-Smith, do you believe the next one is going? It’s not that we’re taking crazy shots. We’re getting good ball movement, open shots, the floor is spaced, we’re getting in the lane and we’re dishing it.
“When you come in with an expectation and the expectation isn’t met, it bleeds into anger, frustration and bitterness. You never go into a season factoring in adversity. I’ve tried to help them understand it.”
More than anything, the early season struggles have forced Florida players to appreciate even more what last year’s seniors did.
“There’s a different level of appreciation for the heavy lifting that our seniors did last year,” Donovan said. “It sounds good talking about it in the offseason, but they don’t understand what heavy lifting is right now. They’ve got to learn how to do it.”
For Donovan, the early season struggles are a positive. He’s obviously not happy with the outcome, but this team needed to learn from challenges. Now they have a chance to do that.
“The worst thing for our team would be to win six games, have a +20 point differential, everybody happy, everybody getting double figures and life is just great,” Donovan said. “We need reality, we need truth. We need (to be) exactly where we’re at.”
The Gators face another challenge on Friday night at 9 p.m. (ESPN) at Kansas, the latest challenge on a gauntlet of a schedule. Junior Perry Ellis (15.3 points/7.0 rebounds) leads the charge up front with star freshman Cliff Alexander coming off the bench. The frontcourt gets the headlines, but Donovan saw on film how much the guards can also hurt teams.
“They’ve got a complete team,” Donovan said. “Terrific frontcourt and very good backcourt players. They’re learning and growing as they grow, as well. If you look at their pieces, they have it all.”
INJURIES: Dorian Finney-Smith (hairline fracture in hand) is expected to practice, but the coaches have given him a break in practice this week. He didn’t practice Monday or Tuesday, resting the hand to get the swelling down. On Wednesday, he went through light non-contact work in practice.
Carter is a different story. He hasn’t practiced through Wednesday this week and Donovan was unsure if he will play at Kansas. The Florida coach felt he pushed Carter too hard in the Bahamas, contributing to some of his shooting woes.
“We’ve got to go to Lawrence with the guys that are healthiest and the best,” Donovan said.