Gators get win, Donovan still worried
Billy Donovan is worried.
His Florida Gators are coming off their biggest victory of the season, a 70-68 win over No. 10 Kentucky on Saturday night.
Donovan should be ecstatic — in a celebratory mood — but he’s seen this movie before.
Florida went into Tallahassee in late-November and took care of intrastate-rival Florida State.
Then came the embarrassing loss to Central Florida down in Orlando.
But the Gators responded and won their next three — the third being a resounding 13-point win against Kansas State down in South Florida.
What followed two days later? A humiliating matinee setback at home to Jacksonville.
"I think this game, in a lot of ways, is a microcosm of this team,” Donovan said after yet another nail-biter.
His team showed resiliency after Kentucky battled back from a 13-point deficit midway through the second half and took the lead on a Terrence Jones three-pointer with a little more than five minutes left.
"I didn’t feel our guys buckled and gave in,” Donovan said.
But Donovan isn’t worried when his team’s back is against the wall.
In fact, that’s when he’s at peace.
But right now? He’s concerned after consecutive victories at home against Vanderbilt and Kentucky that have put the Gators are 18-5 overall and 7-2 in the SEC East — which is 1 1/2 games ahead of second-place Tennessee.
"Do we have the maturity as a team to handle this and go forward from here?” Donovan questioned. "That’s been the No. 1 problem. We haven’t handled these situations well.”
"We come out so hyped for the huge games,” Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons said. "We need to bring that level of passion and intensity every night.”
Like on Wednesday night in Columbia, S.C., against a South Carolina team that snapped Florida’s five-game winning streak in Gainesville just three weeks ago.
Parsons, who has struggled at times this season, may be Donovan’s biggest emotional enigma — even though he’s come about as far as anyone he’s coached since arriving as a freshman.
"I think he came in with a poor understanding of competition, work ethic and all that goes into this,” Donovan said. "Where he was from the first day he stepped on campus to where he is now is as great a jump as I’ve seen from a guy changing in every possible way.”
Parsons had about as well-rounded a game as Donovan could have possibly imagined against the 10th-ranked Wildcats, finishing with 17 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and not a single turnover.
In fact, Parsons was so impressive that Donovan did something he never remembers doing since he arrived in Gainesville 15 years ago.
He didn’t remove Parsons from the game for a single second in the second half.
Parsons also had arguably the two most important plays of the game after Kentucky, which has barely utilized a zone defense all season, threw the Gators off their rhythm by abandoning man-to-man defense in the second half.
Parsons had a follow tip-in with 5:10 remaining in the game to reclaim the lead from the Wildcats, then had a tip-dunk off Erving Walker’s missed three-pointer two minutes later.
"Those were critical,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "Without those, we win the game.”
"We’re really good if he plays like that,” Donovan said.
Since league play began, Parsons is averaging 12.6 points (on a little more than nine shot attempts per game), 9.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 47 percent from three-point land. He’s had at least 10 rebounds in five consecutive games.
Donovan loves that kind of production from his versatile 6-foot-9 senior.
It also scares him.
"Chandler’s been at his best when he hits rock bottom,” Donovan said. "He’s a fighter. He’s resilient. It’s success that has worried me with him.”
But Donovan’s seen a change in maturity in Parsons lately. He knocked down two huge free throws late in the win against Vanderbilt and made one of two with the game on the line to help seal the Kentucky victory.
"I think coach (Donovan) is starting to trust me,” Parsons said.
"He’s starting to figure out what this is all about,” added Donovan.
But Donovan is still concerned.