No. 17 Florida using effort to overcome flaws
Between last-second 3-pointers, clutch free throws and even some defensive stops, No. 17 Florida has won several close games.
Those nerve-racking finishes have the Gators atop the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division.
They also have coach Billy Donovan unsure what to expect from his team in the final month of the regular season.
''I think on any given night we can play with anybody and I think on any given night that a Jacksonville or a Central Florida can beat us,'' Donovan said. ''That's who we are.''
Even after knocking off Vanderbilt and Kentucky last week - and winning for the 10th time in 12 games - Donovan is still leery about this group. In fact, he hasn't changed his opinion from when he warned fans last month by saying, ''Don't fall in love.''
''As a coach, I am just trying to deal with what is the truth, what is the reality about where we at, where we got to get better,'' he said. ''I think our guys have shown a level of resilience. My biggest concern is handling the prosperity part, 'Can you understand the human element and battle that and try and get yourself ready to play?'
''I want to see us have a disposition on the court that we are playing at a level that is as hard as we can play.''
The Gators (18-5, 7-2 SEC) get a chance to show that kind of intensity Wednesday night at South Carolina (13-8, 4-4). If not, they could be in trouble - again.
Donovan blames three-point losses to Central Florida, Jacksonville and South Carolina on his team's lackluster play and failure to handle success. And since Florida tends to miss free throws, struggle from 3-point range and look lost at times on defense, effort can be the difference between winning and losing.
''We're not always focused and Coach doesn't know what he's going to get out of us sometimes,'' freshman Patric Young said. ''Sometimes it seems like we're not ready to play. ... (Donovan) says there's two types of players: The guys that come out and play the game and see how hard they need to play and then there's the other guys that come out and give it their all.
''Sometimes we match up with teams like Jacksonville or UCF and we'll be like, 'Oh, they're not playing that hard. Maybe we can go down and play at their level.' And sometimes we come out against Rhode Island and we play the best defensive game, best offensive game of the year and we're just unstoppable.''
Despite those occasional letdowns, the senior-laden Gators have the league's best overall record, boast a strength of schedule in the single digits and an RPI in the teens.
They also realize they played five nail-biters that could have gone the other way. Florida won three SEC games in overtime, and edged Auburn and Kentucky in tight, down-to-the-wire affairs.
''We can live in the past. We can't look back,'' center Vernon Macklin said. ''No team in the country is good enough to show up and just play and get a win. You've got to go out three and be aggressive and play as hard as we can and maybe win the game. But we can't go out there and not play as hard as he wants us to all the time.''