Gators Can't Embrace Success

It's not often that a coach can give his team a direct, specific example to learn from. It's even more unusual for that first hand experience be shared by most of those involved. But that's exactly the case with the Gator basketball team with 10 games to go in the regular season.

Florida has exactly matched last season's mark of 18-3 through 21 games, and their 5-1 SEC mark is also a re-run. But that's where the Gators are convinced similarities end. Last year's team was coming off consecutive NCAA titles, and while few players on that team had anything to do with those titles they carried themselves with the undeserved swagger of a champion. This year's team is hungry with most key players humbled by last season's collapse.

Just like last year the Gators face a back-loaded schedule with six games remaining against the top teams in the SEC: Kentucky (2), Tennessee (2), LSU and Mississippi State. Four of those six are on the road and the Gators have to be viewed as underdogs in each of those contests. Still with five home games remaining and most feeling a 10-6 SEC record would lock up an NCAA bid the Gators have a great shot at returning to the big dance.

Florida coach Billy Donovan looked at the situation.

"I don't think that we're the same team as we were last year," Donovan said. "The only thing that mirrors last year's team is our record. I didn't like that path that we went down last year when we were 18-3, because I thought our practice habits started to (become) lax. You could see us coach the slippage and you try to tell them about it and show it to them and expose it. But you know what? They had to go through it."

Donovan said the most disappointing thing about last season's face was the lack of effort to keep getting wins.

"I didn't think last year, the last ten games of the year we gave ourselves a chance because of the way we practiced. I think there's a level where you have to earn it and you've got to invest in it."

Donovan said he does not think this team has the same mindset.

"I don't sense that slippage right now from our team. If there wasn't slippage last year I don't know if we were good enough to knock off a lot of those teams that we played. That's going to be the interesting thing going forward for our team. We're going to find out if there's not any slippage and we really work to get better are we good enough to beat some of those teams."

While Donovan likes this team's work ethic a lot more than last year's, he's also convinced this team is far from playing its best ball.

"We still have a lot of room for growth and improvement. There are still some things we've got to do better as a team. There's still some signs of immaturity that I see that have got to get better that they've got to address to reach their fullest potential. I just want to give ourselves a chance because we're humble, we work hard, we have a respect for the game and each other and we know how hard it is to win. I think when you have that perspective going into every game you have a better chance to battle and compete."

The Gators play late games (9:00 p.m.) the next two contests. They'll face Tennessee up in Knoxville on Saturday and will return to the O'Dome Tuesday night for a rematch with South Carolina. Those two games will go a long way towards setting the tone for the rest of this season.

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