Gators trying to rebound at Texas A&M

When Billy Donovan took the Florida job, he knew there would be rebuilding early in his tenure.

But once that happened and the program got on a solid footing, he never thought a season like this would happen. The Gators sit at 12-12 while they head to Texas A&M on Saturday, trying to salvage what’s left of a disappointing season after starting out the year ranked as a top 10 team.

Billy Donovan never bought into those preseason rankings, saying his team was a long way from being in that group. This season has proven that.

It’s the first time a Florida team has been 12-12 since Donovan’s first season in Gainesville.

“When you’re trying to build a program that’s not a tradition-rich program, in a lot of ways, the rest of the country is trying to maintain a level of stability and consistency,” Donovan said on Friday before the team travelled to College Station. “I said this when I first got here, the biggest challenge with Florida is maintaining consistency over a long period of time. I think we have maintained a level of consistency, but there have been ebbs and flows, ups and downs.

“You go through different periods if you’re at a place for a long time.”

These dips have happened for Florida before, but none of them have been to this extreme. After the back-to-back national title teams in 2006-07, the Gators were faced with an inexperienced team that struggled throughout the season. Donovan built it back, and Florida ran off a string of three straight Elite Eights before breaking through to the Final Four last year.

Now his program is back in rebuilding mode. It can energize a coach in this position, especially when they’ve been in it before. However, Donovan didn’t avoid addressing the frustration. After dominating competition for the last four years, his team is now in desperate need of growth.

“When you put in a lot of time and effort into building a program, it’s a tough pill to swallow when you go from two national championships to two NITs,” Donovan said about the success he has had. “It’s hard.”

The challenge continues against the Aggies on Saturday. Texas A&M comes into the game 16-7 on the season and 7-4 in Southeastern Conference play, winning seven of its last nine games.

Guard Danuel House leads the Aggies with 14.1 points and is shooting 41 percent from behind the three-point line. With forward Jalen Jones averaging 13.6 points per game, it’s a duo that has given teams problems in league play, with Donovan even saying that House “has really given them explosive scoring on the perimeter.” It’s another challenge after the Gators struggled with Ole Miss’ guards on Thursday.

“I think they’re one of the better teams in our league and have played pretty consistent,” Donovan said. “They’re very well balanced and have depth on the perimeter with depth up front. They’re older.”

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