Commentary

Gators bounce back

Florida follows Billy Donovan's coaching to focus on defense, rebounding

Updated: January 11, 2012, 12:09 AM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Kenny Boynton didn't want to think about what would happen if he and his Florida teammates showed up on Tuesday night and played with the same lack of defensive intensity they did against Tennessee last weekend.

After what the Gators endured on Sunday and Monday, there was no telling what coach Billy Donovan might do.

But Boynton wasn't really worried. He was pretty sure the Gators would respond against Georgia in front of 10,506 at the O'Connell Center -- and he was right. UF put together one of its best defensive performances of the season and stymied the Bulldogs 70-48.

[+] EnlargeBradley Beal
Kim Klement-US PresswireFlorida guard Bradley Beal tied for the team lead with 17 points against Georgia on Tuesday night.
"I knew we were going to come out strong," said Boynton, who along with Bradley Beal scored a team-high 17 points. "I knew the way we practiced there was no way we could come out and not do the things that we practiced."

And what the 19th-ranked Gators (13-4, 1-1 SEC) practiced -- twice on Sunday and once again on Monday -- was rebounding and playing defense. All the stuff Florida struggled with against Tennessee -- the Gators struggled to get through screens, didn't react well in the post, missed assignments and rotations, and generally seemed a step behind the Vols all game -- was done over and over and over again in those three workouts.

After going through that, and constantly being reminded that they allowed Tennessee to shoot 51 percent from the field, it would have been almost suicidal to play poorly on defense against Georgia. So holding the Bulldogs to 36.4 percent from the field and giving up a season-low 48 points saved the Gators a lot of bumps, bruises and sweat.

"We didn't want two more days or three more days of practice like we had these past few days," Boynton said. "We definitely want to come back and get Coach's trust again that we are a defensive team and we can stop other teams from scoring."

Florida got some of that trust back early, allowing Georgia (9-7, 0-2) to make just one of its first nine shots from the field in the game's first six minutes and eventually building a 20-point lead late in the first half. UF was ahead 35-21 at the break, and the 21 points were the fewest the Gators had allowed in any half this season.

"The last couple days we've been preparing so hard trying to be a tough team that we were just getting after it and playing harder than we usually play," Beal said. "We just wanted to come out and just pressure them and force turnovers, just play our style."

It was UF's best defensive half since the first half of the Texas A&M game on Dec. 17, when the Gators limited the Aggies to just 25 first-half points. UF neutralized Texas A&M's pick-and-roll action and caused problems with its press. The result was the Aggies started the game 0-for-6 from the field in the game's first eight minutes. By the time Aggies got their first field goal on a layup, UF was ahead 18-4.

Florida was just as good against Georgia, giving up just nine field goals and forcing six turnovers in the first half.

"I was much more pleased with our effort [on defense], our level of awareness, being alert, sharp and focused," Donovan said. "I thought we defended them very, very well. You hold any team to 48 points you've done a pretty good job defensively.

"We come off the Tennessee game [and] I would be really disappointed in our team if we came out and played flat again here today."

Donovan wasn't completely satisfied. The Gators gave up 11 offensive rebounds and some easy baskets in the second half. There were still some missed rotations, some times when players failed to block out, and too many open looks from 3-point range, but it was still a much better performance than the last time the Gators were on the court.

The players aren't satisfied, either -- partly because they know if they slip up any more there will be another round of those brutal practices. Who knows what Donovan would have tried. A four-hour practice? Grab a couple offensive linemen and throw them into a scrimmage? A cattle prod?

"Honestly we could have played even better defense tonight," said Patric Young, who had eight points and 10 rebounds. "I didn't realize that they only had 48 points, but we had a lot of breakdowns. They came down with a lot of offensive rebounds and knocked down a lot of 3-point shots that we shouldn't have given up. I feel like we should have held them under 30.

"If you take away the offensive rebounds, take away the open threes, and the second-chance points, then it's a completely different game."

Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at espndirocco@gmail.com or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.

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