Donovan, Gators Face Hard Decisions Ahead

Seven games into the basketball season and the Florida Gators are not ready for life support. There is still too much basketball to be played and too much coaching that can be done to improve Coach Billy Donovan's basketball team to throw in the towel yet, but it's quite evident after consecutive losses on consecutive Saturdays that the time may be fast approaching for Coach Billy Donovan to make some hard choices about his team.

Saturday the Gators couldn't defend the perimeter once again, couldn't stop Louisville's guards from penetrating and once again, in a tough game, Florida couldn't knock down open three-point shots. Louisville dropped Florida's record to 5-2 with a 74-70 win before 11,017 at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, and for the second straight week, it was a game that Florida had every chance to win.

"I thought the difference in the game was our inability to handle them off the dribble, very similar to Miami," said Donovan, "and I think (Francisco) Garcia and (Tyquan) Dean created a lot of opportunities for their team. The difference in the game was the three-point line. We were 4-22, they were 10-22."

It wasn't as if Florida took bad shots from behind the arc, it's just that the Gators couldn't have thrown one in the ocean while standing on the end of the pier. Matt Walsh, Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey and Mohammed Abukar all had their share of open looks, but they combined for 0-10 from the three-point line.

"We made extra passes," said Donovan, noting that the Gators did a good job of working the ball into David Lee inside, then Lee found open shooters with his kick-out passes. "We had some of our better shooters with good looks but couldn't get it to go down."

Louisville, meanwhile, hit one three-pointer after another. The Cardinals hit five of their first six three-point attempts to bolt to an 11-2 lead which the Cardinals never relinquished, forcing the Gators to play catch-up the entire game. Florida came close to coming back on several occasions, but each time the Gators had a chance to take the lead or tie, they either couldn't hit the shot or would turn the ball over. While Donovan cited a few plays that hurt the Gators, he also mentioned that it wasn't just those plays, but many over the course of the game that showed a lack of good basketball sense that cost Florida chances to get a win.

"Our basketball IQ as a team needs to get a lot better right now," said Donovan matter of factly.

Two plays in the final 65 seconds of the game emphasized that the Gators aren't ready to join basketball's version of Mensa.

Junior center Adrian Moss turned the ball over with the Gators trailing by four points with 1:05 remaining, then he committed a hard, intentional foul that gave Louisville two shots from the foul line and the ball.

Senior power forward David Lee, left all alone behind the arc with Florida trailing, 71-68, let fly with an ill-advised air ball of a three-pointer. There were 20 seconds left in the game and plenty of time left remaining on the shot clock so there was no need for desperation. The opportunity was there for Lee to do what he had been doing all day, which was take the ball to the rack, but instead he took the three.

"David Lee knows better to take a three," said Donovan, miffed that his senior didn't use his head. "I thought Adrian Moss's turnover then the intentional foul hurt us, and then David Lee's three-point shot … he needs to put the ball on the floor and create. If they back off, then take an 8-10 foot jump shot, but there was no reason to take that shot. Those plays didn't lose the game for us but they were certainly contributing factors."

While Lee's shot didn't fall, it was hard to fault his overall effort. He battled hard on the boards and provided inside offense with a spectacular series of high rise dunks and stickbacks. His 18 points and nine rebounds led the Gators. Anthony Roberson provided 15 points but his game was often passive, especially down the stretch. Matt Walsh disappeared for minutes at a time, and though he scored 14 points, mostly from the foul line, he couldn't buy a three.

A 47-point effort from his three upperclassman stars would normally be a point of satisfaction for Donovan, but on this day, just like last Saturday, he was aware that there has to be more input from the rest of the team. Particularly, he's not getting much help up front for Lee from Moss or sophomores Mohammed Abukar or Chris Richard. Moss fouled out without scoring and his 20 minutes on the floor produced all of one rebound. Richard got a free throw and a rebound in three minutes while Abukar had two rebounds to show for his seven minutes on the floor.

The ineffectiveness of Moss, Abukar and Richard had Donovan talking of getting more playing time for the 6-8, 245-pound Horford and 6-11 Joakim Noah, his two freshmen big men. The talk of getting more time for those two led the coach to bring up the question that has begun to loom on the mind of observers and fans alike.

At what point do the five freshmen (Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Horford, Noah and Cornelius Ingram) start getting the minutes they need and experience that comes only through playing time? The freshmen have shown that they bring a new level of intensity and energy to the team, plus they give the Gators the kind of depth they didn't have last year. Donovan is well aware that to play the youngsters will mean a time of growing pains, plus depleted minutes for players who have been in the system longer.

"The intensity, the enthusiasm and energy they have is there," said Donovan. "They really are missing that experience. They aren't the talent level of Kwame Brown, Mike Miller or Donnell Harvey where the talent can offset the mistakes. The talent is not good enough for that. They need to gain that experience. I guess we're going to have to live with the mistakes."

Of the freshmen, Brewer is already starting at small forward. He scored 11 points Saturday and he's already making his presence known defensively. On the perimeter, he is Florida's best overall defender with the quickness and long arms that provide a problematic presence for opponents. He also is beginning to show an ability to create scoring down the stretch. Saturday, as the Gators mounted one comeback after another, Brewer seemed ever present, having a hand in nearly everything the Gators did that went right.

He had a three-pointer from the corner with 4:18 remaining, and when Lee air-balled a short jumper with 3:22 left, Brewer snaked his way through a crowd for the rebound, then found a way to get fouled trying to put the ball back up. He hit the two free throws to bring Florida back to within two points. He had two more critical free throws with 44.6 seconds left.

Green saw plenty of minutes and though he had a poor shooting night, his quickness on the defensive end helped to negate some of Louisville's overwhelming quickness advantage in the backcourt. Horford had five points and seven rebounds, showing a willingness to mix it up inside and decent offensive moves around the basket.

"Do we sit them [the freshmen] down and play limited minutes and don't let them grow at a faster rate or throw them in there and hope they can get better?" Donovan asked.

The answer to that question is painfully obvious, and with lightweights Georgia Southern, Sam Houston State and Eastern Kentucky representing three of the final four non-conference opponents before Florida embarks on its SEC schedule, the time is now. Play the kids or pay the price later on.

It might get ugly, but it will get better.

Fightin Gators Top Stories