Florida Basketball: How Gators Can Solve Late-Game Woes
Florida basketball has had an interesting season. The Gators are 24-6, and each of their 24 victories has come by at least 12 points.
On the flip side, five of Florida’s six losses have come by six points or less. For some reason, the Gators have not been able to pull out close games. They have blown late leads in ugly fashion on numerous occasions, the last of which came Saturday at Kentucky.
Florida went the final 7:36 without scoring in its 61-57 loss, and the Gators let another game they seemed to control late slip away. Earlier this season, Florida had a six-point lead with just over a minute left at Arizona and lost. At Missouri, the Gators led by double digits midway through the second half but fell short there, too.
One thing is certain: If Florida is going to advance deep into the NCAA tournament, it has to figure out its struggles in close games.
Here is how the Gators can solve their late-game woes.
Get and Take Better Shots
Too often, Florida has taken and missed poor shots late in games this season.
Kenny Boynton has been at the heart of a few of these instances. He took some tough perimeter shots in the final minute against Missouri that did not work out. Again on Saturday, with his team down two, Boynton took a step-back, fadeaway jumper from the right wing that was off the mark.
At this point, it feels like Florida’s season is going to come down to whether Boynton will make one of these high-difficulty shots with the game on the line in the NCAA tournament. So far, that strategy hasn’t worked out.
While Boynton has not hit his shots late in games, he isn’t the only one who is guilty. It takes a team effort to go 7:36 without scoring as Florida did against Kentucky. Mike Rosario was not smart with the ball, and Scottie Wilbekin had a couple turnovers.
Florida will have to rely on one another to get quality looks late in games.
Gain More Experience in Pressure Situations
Obviously, most fans would prefer that their teams not play close games. If the Gators won handily over every opponent the rest of the season, that would work out well, but the likelihood of that happening is very low.
The reality is that Florida needs to find itself in pressure-filled situations more often. The only way the Gators can break through in a tight, late-game situation is if they are faced with that predicament.
It would be better for Florida to face those obstacles in the SEC tournament without the prospect of its season coming to an end. That will be the case in the NCAA tournament, and the pressure will be that much greater on a bigger stage.
Figure out a Go-to Player
Billy Donovan needs to figure out who should have the ball in his hands with the game on the line. That doesn’t mean that player has to be the one who takes the shot, but Donovan needs someone to initiate the offense in the final minutes.
There are three players to choose from to initiate the offense in Kenny Boynton, Scottie Wilbekin and Mike Rosario. Boynton has been the one who has ended up with the ball in his hands in the past, but that hasn't worked out well.
The good news is that Donovan is not short on options for a potential last shot. All five starters are averaging at least nine points per game, and when they are clicking, they play excellent team basketball. Donovan’s task is figuring out how to carry that over into clutch situations.
Get It out of Their Head
It seems like Florida’s struggles late in games are mental as much as anything else. Against Kentucky and Missouri, it just felt like the pressure got to the Gators, and they lost their confidence.
Unfortunately for Billy Donovan, there isn’t much he can do in practice to try to get his guys to overcome this mental hurdle. He can only do so much to simulate the type of pressure his team has faced late in games.
Maybe a date with a sports psychologist would do his guys some good. At this point, it doesn’t feel like there is much else Donovan can do.