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March 17, 2014

Notebook: Free throws a focal point

Time moves fast around Florida's basketball facility, and that means Sunday's Southeastern Conference Tournament championship is in the past as the Gators get back to work in preparation for their Thursday NCAA Tournament opener.

Except Billy Donovan isn't quite ready to throw it behind him as quickly as he has other accomplishments; but mainly because there are lessons to be learned, most notably at the free-throw line.

"We've got to do a better job there," Donovan said. "We were doing really well for a while there. One of the things that happened is we did work on it some, but we've got to spend more time on that. That has to be an emphasis and focal point for us. We've shown the ability and the potential to shoot the ball well."

At its best this season, Florida sunk late free throws to turn close games into misleading final scores. It made a combined 39 free throws in back-to-back road wins against Tennessee and Kentucky.

In an almost remarkable feat, the Gators shot nearly as well from the 3-point line (47.1 percent) as they did from the free-throw line (50 percent) in three games at the SEC Tournament. Florida made 27 free throws and 24 shots from beyond the arc.

The Gators averaged 63 points per game, more than seven points below their season average which is eighth in the SEC.

"You look at 50 percent from the free-throw line. That cuts down points," Donovan said. "The one thing we did do a great job on, if you look at the stat sheet, we shot a very high percentage from the field, right around 46 percent over the three games."

Defense helped make up for the free-throw troubles. The Gators had nine steals in each game and allowed opponents to shoot just 16.2 percent (6 for 37) from the 3-point line. Opponents averaged 52.6 points in Atlanta.


The Associated Press released its postseason conference awards Monday and, unsurprisingly, the Gators lit up the list. Donovan was named SEC Coach of the Year and Scottie Wilbekin was named SEC Player of the Year. Wilbekin and Casey Prather were first-team All-SEC selections, while Patric Young was named to the second-team list.

It's the latest in a long line of bonuses for Donovan from his incentive-based contract. As of Monday, Florida's coach has made an additional $187,500 this season from bonuses that include $50,000 finishing in the AP top-10 (the Gators finished No. 1 in the last AP Poll for the first time in school history), winning the SEC regular season ($50k), winning the SEC Tournament ($25k) and making the NCAA Tournament ($37,500). Donovan receives a $25,000 bonus for being AP SEC Coach of the Year.

-- ETC. --

- Donovan was asked about why Young is such a good post defender and brought up the biggest difference between the senior and freshman Chris Walker at the moment: "Chris Walker athletically, moving, running, jumping, is an unbelievable athlete. But I would not classify him right now as an efficient mover. Patric sometimes looks like he's struggling or laboring. Patric is a disciplined, efficient mover. There's no waste of motion with him. He's really, really disciplined. He is, by far, the best guy I have ever been around in the frontcourt -- and I'll put Noah and Horford up there too -- he is, by far, the best guy defending the pick and roll."

- For the first time since 2004, Providence - Donovan's alma mater - has made the NCAA Tournament: "I'm very happy. Very, very happy. (coach) Ed Cooley is a great guy. I've known Ed for a long time. My sister and he went to college together. I've known Ed all the way since he was an assistant at Boston College. I was proud when they hired him."

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