The Gators haven't fared well on the boards in SEC play. They got away with sub-par rebounding in the first three conference games which they won but against Tennessee and South Carolina, the deficits on the offensive boards had everything to do with Florida taking two close losses. Tennessee outrebounded Florida 15-8 on the offensive boards (40-35 overall) despite playing almost one half of the game with a front line that measured 6-7, 6-4, 6-5 against Florida's 6-11, 6-9, 6-9.
Wednesday night, in the Gators' 68-62 loss to South Carolina, the Gamecocks pounded the offensive boards for a 12-5 advantage and 12 second chance points. The Gamecocks had a taller lineup than the Gators faced against Tennessee, but still the Gators had a height advantage.
Florida's inability to rebound the ball in the first half contributed mightily to a long drought of 9:24 in which Florida didn't score a single point from the field. Florida had a 15-6 lead in the first eight minutes of the game but the Gators only scored eight points in the final 12 minutes of the half and trailed at intermission, 29-23.
"Outside of Joakim Noah who had nine rebounds there were a lot of ones and zeros going down the stat column going into the first half," said Donovan.
Part of the rebounding problems can be traced to what's going on with the defense on the perimeter. Florida's guards have been beaten consistently off the dribble in the SEC games, allowing smaller teams to sneak players in for second chance points off missed shots.
"Some of our troubles rebounding the basketball has been our guards getting beat off the dribble and our bigs having to help which leaves the back of the rim that's open," said Donovan. "Dribble penetrations have been a problem."
Some of the defensive problems in the last two games can be traced to the ankle sprain suffered by Corey Brewer in the first half of the game against Tennessee. Brewer is Florida's best and quickest defender on the perimeter but since he hurt his ankle, he's been a liability on the defensive end of the floor. That's also shown up in the rebounding stats. Brewer is averaging 5.5 rebounds per game, but he got only two rebounds after the injury in the Tennessee game and only one in the entire game against South Carolina.
Donovan refuses to allow the injury to be an excuse for poor play, however.
"I know that Corey was hurt and probably wasn't 100 percent but I'm a big believer that any time you step across the line and you play there are no excuses," said Donovan. "Corey plays the game and gets one rebound."
The lack of offensive rebounding also shows up in another key area and that's the foul line. Against Tennessee, the Vols had 15 offensive reounds and 23 free throw attempts to 16 free throw attempts for the Gators (eight offensive rebounds). The Gators only got to the foul line for 10 free throws against South Carolina while the Gamecocks, who had a 12-5 offensive rebounding advantage, had 26 free throw attempts.
"We're not doing a good enough job in my opinion of us going to the offensive glass and trying to get offensive rebounds to try to draw fouls to get to the free throw line," said Donovan. "That's got to happen."
Between the second chances on the offensive boards and Florida's turnovers, Tennessee and South Carolina have averaged 12 more shots per game than the Gators. Florida has shot well enough --- 51 percent from the field --- but the giveaways and the extra shots have been difference makers.
So that puts Donovan in a teaching situation with his young team. Some of the lessons are easy to point out. Stat sheets don't lie but it's more than the stat sheet revelations for answers to why the Gators have lost two in a row after such a successful start.
"The biggest thing I have to do as a coach is to help them understand why you win and why you lose," said Donovan. "It's two things --- one is on the stat sheet and the other is recognizing who is on the floor, who can do what and take advantage of who's open and what's available. At times we haven't done that. The unfortunate part about that piece of it is you have to go through some experience to try to figure it out."
In Vanderbilt, the Gators are facing a team that shoots the ball well and plays pretty good defense. The Commodores are averaging 71 points per game while shooting 45.6 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from three-point range. The Commodores are holding opponents to 62 points per game and 43 percent shooting.