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Gators dealing with time of concern

Florida Today
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 02:07 PM

GAINESVILLE The last few weeks of the regular season, for various reasons, haven't been kind to the Florida basketball team in recent years.

Even the national championship teams in 2006 and 2007 won just two of the final five regular season games each season. The 2008 and 2009 teams that missed the NCAA Tournament finished 0-3 and 1-3, respectively. The 2010 team ended the regular season 0-3.

So, these are somewhat scary times in Gainesville.

The Gators (19-5 overall, 7-2 SEC) have seven regular season games left. They play Tennessee (12-12, 4-5) at home today, four days after a disheartening 78-58 loss at No. 1 Kentucky.

Previously, Florida's worst defeat of the season was 67-56 in Knoxville on Jan. 7. After that, Florida appeared to figure things out in winning a season-high seven straight and climbing back into the nation's top 10 in the polls before running into a tidal wave in Lexington.

Another area that concerns Gators coach Billy Donovan is the team's performance from beyond the arc. Florida is hitting 35 percent of its shots from three-point range against SEC teams while allowing opponents to hit more than percent.

That's a recipe for another tough finish in February.

"I'm not really worried about our shooting percentage; I think if we shoot between 38 and 43 on a regular basis for the year that's pretty good,'' Donovan said. "What I would like to see is our 3-point percentage field goal defense down a lot lower. We're giving up too high a percentage in our league right now.''

The Vols made half of 10 attempts behind the arc in the first meeting, while racing to an early lead. While UF has led the nation in 3-point field goals virtually all season, when those shots aren't falling – with little offense being generated from inside - it's a forecast for failure.

It's how Florida reacted at Kentucky, when shots weren't going down, that has Donovan concerned.

"You're going to have some games where you don't shoot the ball well,'' said Donovan , whose team was 6 of 27 from the 3-point line against the Wildcats. "We did not shoot the ball well. That had something to do with Kentucky's defense, some if it had to do with we didn't make shots. We had some good looks, we needed to make a few. Besides that I thought the plays that hurt us more were our turnovers or a bad shot or a bad drive or a blocked shot that got them out in transition.

"I think in the first half against our half-court defense they were like 5 for 19 (from the field). So, we did a good job of guarding them in the half-court. It was transition that hurt us, our turnovers, and there were some plays to close the half out where they came down on a loose ball offensive rebound for some put backs."

Tough games are going to happen, especially down the stretch. After today's game with Tennessee, the Gators play four of the next five games on the road, then close out the regular season at home against Kentucky.

If Florida is to avoid another late-season slide that could damage its hopes for a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Gators have to turn the page quickly.

"I do think that there has got to be better resiliency in those situations where you really, everything is a grind, everything is a struggle,'' Donovan said. "It's a lot easier playing when the ball is going in the basket. …There's no question that there's got to be a real tough mental fortitude that, 'You know what, I'm going to move past all this to find a way collectively as a group to keep ourselves in the game.'

"That's the thing I was most disappointed about in the game was things were not going well for us on the offensive end of the floor from missing open shots that maybe guys felt like they could knock down to missing some layups by our front-court guys, missing some tip-ins, missing open 3s and then there's got to be enough internally to fight and battle and deal with that kind of adversity.''

The Gators have not lost consecutive games this season. Three of the five losses were to teams that will likely be No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament – by seven points to Ohio State, four points to Syracuse plus the blowout at Kentucky. In addition to the UT loss, Florida lost at Rutgers by two points in overtime.

So, there's still a shot to get a desirable seed.

Freshman guard Bradley Beal knows it's time to look forward, into that place that has been a dark hole for so many years at Florida – the regular season stretch run.

"A loss is a loss, no matter by how many points,'' he said. "We just have to move past this and be ready for Tennessee.''