Florida coach Billy Donovan has noticed something missing from his team the last three weeks.
Ball security? Sure. Rebounding? Absolutely. Clutch shots in close games? Well, that, too.
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Those tangible miscues are correctable, but Donovan says he’s more concerned about one intangible missing element.
“I’m more looking at the whole body of work with the way we’re playing right now and I don’t like our fire, I don’t like our intensity,” Donovan said this week.
The coach doesn’t know how the 13th-ranked Gators will regain it.
It could be a fatal flaw or the thing that gets Florida back on track as it heads into the SEC tournament with a game against LSU in Friday’s quarterfinals at Nashville.
The top-seeded Gators (24-6) have lost three of their last six games – all by six points or less.
Florida was outrebounded in losses at Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky, had costly turnovers late and missed shots down the stretch that could have changed the outcome.
Guards Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Pat Young have received the brunt of the blame.
Boynton missed two 3-pointers in the final minute against the Tigers and missed a jumper with 15 seconds to play against the Wildcats. Rosario turned the ball over at crucial times against Mizzou and Kentucky.
And Young was hardly a factor in all three games. He had two points and three rebounds against the Tigers, 15 points and five boards against the Volunteers, and 10 points and two rebounds against the Wildcats.
All of it is concerning for Donovan heading into the postseason.
But all of it pales in comparison to his team’s recent energy and effort. He pointed to the way the Gators started both halves against Kentucky and to a lackluster performance against Alabama, a game in which first place in the league was on the line.
“I’m trying to help our team become great,” Donovan said. “I’m not interested in just us kind of going through the motions here. … I mean, the Kentucky game I’m calling timeout a minute into the game and I’m trying to inject fire and passion.”
The good news for Donovan is he had five days to get his players better prepared for facing ninth-seeded LSU, a team Florida has defeated four straight times.
The Gators cruised to a 74-52 win in Baton Rouge on Jan. 12, holding a 53-34 rebounding advantage and limiting the Tigers to 32.3 percent shooting. Rosario, third on the team in scoring at 12.3 per game, sat out because of an ankle injury.
That defeat was part of an 0-4 start to league play for the Tigers (19-11), who won for the fourth time in six games by holding off Georgia 68-63 on Thursday. LSU led by as much as 23 before allowing the Bulldogs to pull within three with 28.5 seconds remaining.
“We were fortunate our guys were able to hang on,” first-year LSU coach Johnny Jones said.
In a surprising move, Jones opted to start Shavon Coleman, and that decision paid off. Averaging 6.0 points on 27.3 percent shooting off the bench in his previous four games, Coleman scored 24 on 9-of-11 shooting.
“He knocked a couple down and became very confident out there and made big plays,” Jones said.
LSU scored on six of its first seven possessions, which is the kind of start that Donovan has been seeking from his Gators.
“The way we started the past couple games, I think we should do a better job just coming out and being excited and being ready to play,” Florida’s Will Yeguete said. “We’ve been missing that the past couple games. As a player, I feel like you should always be ready to go, no matter what.
“We haven’t had that fire the past couple games. Hopefully we can get it back soon.”