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February 25, 2012Florida coach Billy Donovan isn't sure if his team is ready for a difficult finish to the regular season next week.
If the Gators don't get better play from senior point guard Erving Walker, Donovan thinks they could be in real trouble.
"He doesn't understand that his disposition and his carefreeness out there affect the other guys on the team," Donovan said. "And he doesn't see or understand that, as a point guard, people are looking for direction from you."
Freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 18 points, Gerald Robinson added 15 and Georgia snapped No. 12 Florida's three-game winning streak with a 76-62 victory Saturday.
The Gators, who never led, trailed by double digits most of the second half. They whittled the lead to five points on Kenny Boynton's 3-pointer with 1:53 remaining.
But Georgia (13-15, 4-10 Southeastern Conference) scored the next six points as Dustin Ware and Donte' Williams both made two free throws and Caldwell-Pope followed with a breakaway dunk to make it 73-62.
Florida (22-7, 10-4) is second in the SEC, one game ahead of Vanderbilt. Brad Beal scored 19 points for the Gators, who close the regular season next week at Vanderbilt and at home against No. 1 Kentucky
Florida had won 10 of 12 overall and had taken of 15 of 17 against Georgia, including three straight.
Donovan held out Walker for nearly 6 minutes of the second half before the school's career assists leader returned to the floor, replacing Scottie Wilbekin with 12:17 remaining and Florida trailing by 12.
"It's not all on him to score and get all the assists and everything else, but I think as a senior you would think he would want to take that responsibility a little bit and show that kind of passion considering that he's got two regular-season games left in his career," Donovan said. "But he didn't do that. I just felt like his energy wasn't where it needed to be. He wasn't playing as passionately as I thought he needed to be, and I just thought I'd give some other guys a chance."
Wilbekin, a sophomore, went scoreless, missing his only shot from the field, and handed out one assist in 22 minutes. Walker, who has started 105 of his 136 career games, finished with 14 points and one assist in 31 minutes.
After the game, Walker spoke to reporters before Donovan did.
"Our defense usually gives us easy buckets, but we didn't get that much in transition today," Walker said. "I'd just say we missed shots, and they made a lot of plays on the offensive end, and it was tough for us to recover from that."
Donovan also gave starting forward Erik Murphy, a junior, lots of time on the bench.
"The whole second half, I was just searching for energy and passion, even if it was mistakes," Donovan said. "I think there were (times) where Georgia made some really, really poor plays, but their energy and their passion and their enthusiasm and excitement-they got the ball back. They made hustle plays."
Florida held the Bulldogs to 48 points in a 22-point victory in Gainesville on Jan. 10, but Georgia got offensive production from several positions, including 12 points from Nemanja Djurisic and 11 each from Williams and Ware.
With Georgia leading 63-53, the Gators had three chances to cut the lead to single digits, but Boynton missed a layup, Walker's 3-point attempt never touched the rim and Patric Young committed a turnover before Robinson's free throws made it 65-53 with 2:51 remaining.
"They played a lot harder than we did, especially on the defensive end," said Beal, a freshman guard. "It wasn't great at all. We gave up a lot of 3s, they were shooting a high percentage at halftime and then in the second half they got even hotter and started going on runs."
The Gators missed 13 of their first 16 shots from the field before Boynton's 3 cut the lead to 19-11 midway through the first half. Beal's layup brought Florida within three at the 2:48 mark, but Georgia went on a 10-2 run to make it 36-25 in the final minute of the half.
Boynton had 11 points for Florida, which was assessed a technical foul for dunking in pregame warmups and trailed 2-0 on the two free throws by Robinson before tipoff.
Caldwell-Pope combined with Robinson to score 21 of Georgia's 36 first-half points.
Georgia began the game ranked last in the SEC in scoring, but finished 15 points above its average. Florida was 15 points under its SEC-leading average.
"That was a great win for us," Bulldogs coach Mark Fox said. "We beat a great team in Florida. They're a team that we have a tremendous amount of respect for. It's a big win for us, and we're very proud of it."
The Gators, who played their first game without top reserve Will Yeguete after the sophomore forward broke his left foot Tuesday against Auburn, were just 5 of 23 on 3-point attempts. They began the game leading the nation with an average of 10.3 3-pointers per game.
"I really am concerned if we will ever play with any passion again," Donovan said. "I'm being totally honest here because if you can't get excited to play on the road against a bordering state, getting a chance to go 11-3 in the league and do that, but you come out and you play like that?
"Sometimes to coach with these guys, I feel like I'm grabbing these guys by the back of their shirts and I'm pulling them up a hill all the time."