"I don't think that's our team's personality, nor has it ever been a make up of complacency," said Donovan Monday at his weekly media luncheon. "Our guys compete all the time."
Florida has much to play for in this game. Most importantly, a win puts the Gators one step closer to a first-day bye in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Vanderbilt (16-10, 6-6 in the league) and South Carolina (14-9, 6-6 in the league) still have a shot at tying the Gators for the second position in the SEC East. Kentucky, with an 11-1 record in the league, only needs two wins in its last four games to clinch the top spot.
Also, if the Gators get to the magic 10 SEC wins mark, they are all but a lock to make their seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. If the Gators were to run the table, winning all four of the remaining regular season games, it would also mark the seventh straight year that the Gators have won 20 games. Both streaks are records for Florida.
"If you look at Vanderbilt right now, they have won four of the last six and are playing very good basketball," said Donovan. "I think they'll come in very confident. Hopefully, playing at home and with only two games remaining, our guys will play with good effort. I expect that it will be a complete battle all the way through."
Beating Vandy would be the first step towards locking up the first day bye. Florida is coming off a tough loss to LSU, a game in which the Gators outscored the Tigers from the field but were outshot from the foul line: LSU MADE (29) almost double the number of free throws the Gators attempted (15). Vandy, meanwhile, comes into the game on the heels of a 79-65 win over Arkansas.
The Gators of 2003-2004 had their moments when they would go a little bit soft. They were definitely a finesse team that had its problems with the tough teams that had big, strong and physical front lines. Although this Gator team has lost some battles with big teams that have strong front lines, they don't back down.
Saturday against LSU's big front line which included 6-9, 310-pound Glen Davis and 6-8, 255-pound Brandon Bass, the Gators had some problems handling the two talented big men, but they never backed down. Senior power forward David Lee had one of his better games this season for the Gators, taking it straight at Bass and Davis for a 21-point, six rebound outing.
That's the kind of effort that Donovan has come to expect from his senior, and he's hoping that carries over into Wednesday's game with Vandy.
"David was very aggressive [against LSU]," said Donovan. "He rebounded the ball and made some very good post moves. It was a game where they decided they wanted to play him head up, and didn't double-team him. David converted and made things happen and our guys did a good job getting the ball to him. His confidence is high right now. When he performs like that, it really helps our basketball team."
Vanderbilt doesn't provide near the physical challenges as LSU. The Commodores like to spread the floor, make teams defend the three-point line and then run back door cuts to the basket for layups. The game plan is relatively simple but works quite successfully for Coach Kevin Stallings' team. They lead the league in three-point shooting (40.1 percent) and they're overall shooting percentage is a most respectable 47.8 percent.
"They are a team that wants to take two types of shots: lay-ups and threes," said Donovan. "We're going to have to do a good job understanding personnel, knowing where back doors are and where to match up in our zone defense."
In the first Florida-Vandy matchup in early January, the Commodores hit 12 three-pointers but the Gators registered an 82-65 blowout. Florida played extremely tough defense on the perimeter. The Commodores launched 34 shots from beyond the arc and that helped the Gators to totally dominate the backboards with Lee pulling down 17 rebounds to go with his 11 points. Freshman center Al Horford gave Florida excellent inside support with nine points and 11 rebounds.
Florida played that game without junior shooting guard Matt Walsh, who was out for the third of his four-game absence due to torn ankle ligaments. In his absence, Anthony Roberson stepped up his game with a 30-point effort, including 6-10 from the three point line. Lee Humphrey chipped in with 10 points in that game.
Having Walsh back gives the Gators another weapon for whom the Commodores will have to account. Walsh has scored 92 points in the last five games (18.4 average per game), hitting 31-53 from the field and 16-29 from beyond the arc. Roberson has scored 94 points in the last five games to give Florida the best outside shooting duo in the Southeastern Conference.
The way that Walsh and Roberson have been moving on the perimeter when the ball goes inside has allowed David Lee to make outstanding passes. That's opened the Gators offense up for good looks from beyond the arc, but it's also given Lee better opportunities to use his quickness to get to the hoop when the defense doesn't collapse on him. Donovan likes the ball to go inside first so that Lee has the option to pass or take it to the rack and if there is a quality shot to be had on the perimeter, he wants the ball to fly.
"I go back to the Mississippi game," said Donovan. "They played some zone, and we took three or four three-point shots, where the ball went to David Lee and he threw it back out. We missed three or four right in a row. The assistant coaches were telling me 'Billy, we have to get the ball inside.' I told them 'If Matt Walsh, Lee Humphrey and Roberson are getting wide-open threes we don't need to tell them not to shoot. They need to shoot and let those go.' Then what happened? We ran off nine in a row. The biggest thing for me from the three-point line is the shot selection and teaching (the players) what a good shot is. The last thing I want our guys doing, especially our shooters, is to think about should I or shouldn't I shoot. If Matt Walsh is open, he needs to shoot the ball."