Gators answered challenge in practice

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
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[+] EnlargeErving Walker
AP Photo/April L. BrownExtra time in the gym led directly to Erving Walker's career-high 31-point outburst on Saturday.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's impressive road victories at Alabama and Arkansas last week came because the Gators answered coach Billy Donovan's challenge to improve their practice habits.

Donovan criticized his team after back-to-back losses to Kentucky and Tennessee, saying his players didn't have the proper mentality and understanding of what goes into winning. They needed to be more mature, fight through fatigue and be more consistent in practice.

They did that last week, Donovan said, and look at the results: a 61-52 victory over Alabama despite not having key reserves Will Yeguete and Mike Rosario, and a 98-68 rout of Arkansas.

"I saw it after the Tennessee game coming back to practice," Donovan said. "A guy like Patric Young plays 36 minutes [against Tennessee], we come back and practice at 2 o’clock last Sunday. Perfect reason -- played a lot of minutes, tired, sore and he practiced great. A lot of this is mental for these guys, and what kind of frame of mind they’re in and trying to get them in that frame of mind. They’re all human beings, so they’re not these mechanical robots. They’re going to have feelings, emotions. They’re going to feel pain, soreness, tired, fatigue.

"But trying to mentally deal with that is what you try to get them to handle, so I thought collectively as a group, going forward, our focus last week was much better."

The victory over Arkansas was particularly impressive because the Razorbacks had been 17-0 at Bud Walton Arena this season until last Saturday. UF got a career-high 31 points from Erving Walker and shot 56.5 percent from 3-point range (13-of-23), the Gators' second-best performance of the season (57.1 percent against Yale).

"It all started with practice early in the week," Walker said. "We worked really hard and I think it showed in the game. I knew we would bounce back just as long as we practiced hard, and we did that. It was a good week for us."

Donovan's message to them now, however, is to forget about those victories. Florida (21-6, 9-3 Southeastern Conference) plays host to Auburn (14-12, 4-8) on Tuesday and that's what should be consuming the 11th-ranked Gators' thoughts. UF clinches a first-round by in next month's SEC Tournament with a victory over the Tigers and a Tennessee loss to Ole Miss on Wednesday.

"It’s all about what’s in front of us right now," Donovan said. "And the thing I’ve tried to explain to them is playing on the road [and beating] Alabama and then Arkansas [was because] I thought we had a really good week of preparation. Guys were pretty locked in, pretty focused, and hopefully they’ve learned some lessons."

Note: Donovan said Rosario, a junior guard who has missed Florida's last three games with a hip pointer, has had several rounds of treatment and should be available to play against the Tigers.

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter

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