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February 19, 2014
'Uncharted territory' brings renewed emphasis
This was hardly the first time Patric Young had that feeling shortly before his team was supposed to take the floor. It's a terrible feeling, the kind that can run a surging team like Florida into a brick wall.
Something was off. If his Gators didn't start fast, a bad first half was perfectly feasible.
"It was almost everybody this time. Normally it's only one or two guys," Young said. "I don't know. It's a team atmosphere. It's an inner feeling, an intuition."
Fast-forward an hour or so and that feeling turned into an eight-point halftime deficit to Auburn. The Tigers came into the game ranked No. 157 in RPI and left the O'Connell Center five games below .500 in Southeastern Conference play, but somewhere in the middle they looked like the team to knock off No. 2.
Everything that Florida has been praised for, Auburn seemed to expose.
One of the best defenses in the country? The Tigers shot 47.8 percent from the field and 52.6 percent (10 of 19) from beyond the arc.
A vastly improved frontcourt? After one half, Young and forward Dorian Finney-Smith combined to go 0 for 3 from the field with one rebound. Young improved drastically in the second half - 5 for 6 from the field, 17 points, seven rebounds and the game-winning free throws - but Finney-Smith had his worst night as a Gator, three points and two rebounds.
"We've just got to do a better job of coming out with more energy," said Michael Frazier II, who hit a critical 3-pointer with 41 seconds remaining. "It's so hard to work out of it. Not to take anything from Auburn, but if we play a better team and they get us down like that, it's not going to be easy to climb back."
Never one to sugarcoat, Billy Donovan felt his team was outplayed. Four days after capping off a national statement kind of week that included wins at Tennessee and No. 14 Kentucky, he hoped what happened against Auburn reminded his players just how fragile all they've done is.
"They are in uncharted territory, our players are. I've got to find a way to do a better job in terms of mentally getting them to play close to their potential," Donovan said. "To me, in my opinion, outside of the Tennessee game, we have not played well at home. I don't know if it's a complacency, if they're relaxed, everything is going to be OK. I don't know."
Wednesday's win might not have been definitive but it does give the Gators the longest winning streak in school history at 18 and ties the best start in UF history at 24-2. The last team to do that won a national title. No. 1 Syracuse lost Wednesday night. A win Saturday at Ole Miss and Florida is almost certainly college basketball's new No. 1.
The bright side of all this is the fact this win will be treated like a loss in many ways. Donovan admitted he'd allow for momentary celebration, but players know better.
"Looking at film (Thursday) is going to be pretty bad. It's probably going to be like an hour and a half guaranteed just on the 3-point line," Young said. "Just him yelling at us."
-- ETC. --
Donovan said Young, who has battled tendinitis in his knees all season, almost didn't play Wednesday. "He told me before the game he could play. His knees are ailing. I thought he was phenomenal in the second half," Donovan said.
Freshman point guard Kasey Hill (strained groin) missed Wednesday's game is doubtful for Saturday's game against Ole Miss. "Hill is not progressing as fast as we thought he would."
Frazier came down awkwardly on his left wrist in the second half and sported ice on it after the game. Donovan said he is fine.