Stunned Gators head to Oxford

Carrying a 10-8 record this year and 3-2 record in conference play, Florida coach Billy Donovan didn’t hesitate when asked if his team is stunned at the way this year has played out.

“Absolutely,” Donovan said. “No question. They definitely are.”

The record isn’t, but the NCAA Tournament resume is worse. The Gators built their non-conference schedule to beef up their quality wins. Instead, they lost the games against teams that would have helped. Through 18 games, Florida is still waiting on its first top 50 RPI win.

Another opportunity slipped through the team’s hands on Tuesday night, losing by 18 to LSU for the Gators’ worst home loss since 2010.

And now, the Gators have to regroup quick if they want to better their chances for a run at the NCAA Tournament.

“A lot of times you don’t want to believe it, you’re in denial,” Donovan said. “The further they get to a place of acceptance about what the truth is, as individuals and collectively as players and a team, the quicker they can move towards getting better. I think there’s a level of surprise, a level of wow.”

For Donovan, the surprise isn’t there. He said after Tuesday’s loss that this was what he expected after the team lost four seniors from last year’s starting lineup. And every day, those reminders creep up. Donovan said on Friday that there was a team meeting days after last year’s Final Four with the returning members of the team. That’s when he started to address what they would face this season.

Now almost 10 months later, the coaches are still talking to the players about the same lessons.

“This was my whole thing I said to start the year as a coach,” Donovan said. “What is that fine line between them going through the normal maturation process of competition that they learn and grow on their own, and what is that point where you see a team going in the wrong direction and self-destructing?

“You try to step in as a coach and stop that. There are things I thought could really get in the way if they didn’t have the right approach going into this year. Those things have happened.”

The next chance to overcome this season’s struggles comes on Saturday at 6 p.m. when the Gators travel to face Ole Miss (TV: SEC Network). The Rebels have three starters in double figures, all guards. Stefan Moody (15.6 points), Jarvis Summers (14.1 points) and Ladarius White (11.6 points) all lead Ole Miss offensively.

The Rebels gave No. 1 Kentucky a scare to open SEC play, pushing the Wildcats to overtime at Rupp Arena. The guards get the focus because of their ability to score, but big men M.J. Rhett and Sebastian Saiz also have Florida’s attention.

“I’d say Ole Miss’ frontcourt players don’t get the same level of publicity, but they’re really good players, too,” Donovan said. “Inside their system, they’re very, very effective in what Andy (Kennedy) does with his team and how he uses his guards enables their frontcourt players to be effective rebounders, finishers and scorers inside. Certainly what they’re doing now offensively revolves around White, Moody and Summers.”

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