|Banished, humbled Gators enjoying turnaround in NIT|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 30 March 2008 10:21|
The Florida Gators have gone more than two weeks without many of the comforts they had grown accustomed to at their $12 million practice facility. It's been a dramatic adjustment for the players, but something none of them would change given how it has paid off on the court.
``When you have everything taken away and you're kind of against the corner, you either curl up or you're going to come out swinging,'' Lucas said. ``We came out swinging. I think that's the best thing we could have done.''
Florida, still the two-time reigning NCAA champion for another week, has won three in a row in the NIT since coach Billy Donovan banned his players from their plush facility.
The Gators (24-11) beat San Diego State, Creighton and Arizona State to advance to the semifinals in New York, where they'll play Massachusetts (24-10) on Tuesday night.
Although Florida's little run came against teams far removed from the NCAA tournament, it's been quite a turnaround for a team that had lost four in a row and eight of 11 before Donovan's crackdown.
``Coach Donovan is a great motivator,'' Werner said. ``He understands what we need to do. He's tried to tell us all year, but he just couldn't get through to us. That happens. Parents have kids, and sometimes you can talk to them and other kids you have to yell at them. This was coach's last resort, and he had to do it.''
Donovan made the move mostly because he felt his players had settled into a state of complacency and entitlement. He blocked them from using the locker room, from working on the practice floor that is surrounded with reminders of all the recent success, from getting massage therapy and from wearing any Florida attire.
Now, the Gators are practicing at an old court inside the O'Connell Center, having to trek across campus for treatment, wearing their own clothes to practice and ending up with loads of extra laundry.
``Coach changed our dispositions on the whole outlook of the program and made us appreciate things a lot more,'' forward Jonathan Mitchell said. ``You miss everything about it, but at the same time, it's kind of good.''
Donovan also increased the intensity of practice, saying his players failed to realize how hard they needed to work, especially on defense, to win games.
In the Gators' last three losses - games against Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama that could have gotten Florida into the NCAA field - opponents shot 54 percent from field and 52 percent from 3-point range.
In three NIT games, opponents have shot 43 percent from the floor and 27 percent from behind the arc. And the Gators didn't allow more than 57 points in any of those games.
With balanced scoring, sharp outside shooting and a strong inside game, the Gators have shown a glimpse of playing the way Donovan wanted them to all season.
``Trying to get them to understand the level of expectation we expect our guys to play at here has been a process they have gone through,'' Donovan said.
And, clearly, some good has come of it.
``At first, guys were kind of like, 'Man, we're in the NIT. We broke a (nine)-year streak of making it to the tournament,''' Lucas said. ``It was kind of almost embarrassing. But now, I wouldn't trade this for anything in the world. We've gotten so much more together. Now, I wouldn't even want to make the (NCAA) tournament.''