Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan calls it ”media drama.”
Everyone else, including his players, see the 14th-ranked Florida Gators as having something to prove as they head onto college basketball’s biggest stage.
Florida, the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament’s South Area, can’t seem to close out close games. The Florida Gators are 0-6 in games decided by 6 points or less this season, including 0-4 the last month.
The list includes 3 losses in which Florida Gators led by at least 7 points in the 2nd half.
Missouri overcame a 13-point deficiency to beat the Gators 63-60 on Feb. 19. Kentucky held Florida scoreless for the last 7-plus minutes in transit to a 61-57 victory on March 9. And Mississippi fought back from 12-point halftime hole to knock off Donovan’s team in the Southeastern Conference championship game Sunday in Nashville, Tenn.
And those are just the recent ones. The Florida Gators (26-7) had another late collapse at Arizona in mid-December. They also ended the last 2 seasons in similar fashion: blowing double-digit leads against Louisville Cardinals (2012) and Butler Bulldogs (2011) in NCAA tournament regional finals.
Donovan understands the perception, but he insists his team has created its own problems with poor defense and costly turnovers down the stretch. He believes his guys are assured and taking good shots with the game on the line.
Nonetheless, the misses are adding up as Florida gets ready to play 14th-seeded Northwestern State in the opening round Friday in Austin, Texas.
”We need somebody to step up and be a leader,” Young expounded. ”Just to make sure that when we come back out that we are focused on doing our roles, ensuring that we’re locked in and we are not going to give in irrespective of what the other team throws at us, that we’re still going to keep fighting and doing our jobs defensively.” Vegas odds
It’d be easy to debate that Florida shouldn’t have these issues.
Of course, Donovan has 3 seniors and 2 juniors in his starting lineup – including guards Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario.
Boynton has started 138 games over the last 4 years, including 9 in the NCAA tournament, and possibly should be the team’s go-to guy.
But Boynton is averaging a career-low 12.3 points this season and shooting just 27% from 3-point range during the last 9 games.
As for his teammates? Well, it’s tricky to hand the ball to Young or forward Will Yeguete in crunch time since neither is a good free-throw shooter. Young, hitting 49.6 percent this season, missed 11 of 17 from the charity stripe in the SEC tournament. Yeguete has been a little better, connecting on 58.8 percent.
And Donovan doesn’t seem to trust point guard Scottie Wilbekin or Rosario. They ranked 1st and 2nd on the team in turnovers, and although both can create their own shots, Donovan recognizes that they often will not be good ones.
That leaves Murphy, who got the call against the Rebels. Trailing 65-63 with about 20 seconds to play, Donovan drew up a play for Murphy in the post. He missed, and the SEC regular-season champions failed to claim the tournament title.