A lackluster effort against Florida State last year was a sign that Florida could be headed for a subpar season. If the Gators don’t fix their defense, they may end up disappointed yet again.
The 23rd-ranked Gators, struggling to stop opposing offenses, look to avenge last year’s loss to the Seminoles when the rivals meet Sunday night.
Florida had won two straight national titles entering last season and its first five games of 2007-08 before a 65-51 defeat against Florida State on Nov. 23, 2007. The Gators had a 15-game winning streak snapped, along with their school-record 24-game home winning streak.
It had been Florida’s worst loss since falling 75-60 to Manhattan in the first round of the 2004 NCAA tournament, and an indication that the Gators wouldn’t be as strong as in years past. They finished 24-12 and failed to make the NCAA tournament.
Florida’s biggest problem last season was inconsistent defense, and it remains coach Billy Donovan’s primary concern.
The Gators beat Florida A&M 73-58 on Tuesday night despite some struggles on the defensive end.
Florida A&M finished 11-of-24 from 3-point range, making eight in the second half. That was the kind of defense that plagued Florida most of last season.
“Our defense has to get a lot better,” Gators swingman Nick Calathes said. “We’ve got to play better defense. We have to want it as a team. It has to be us. I think we can be a good defensive team. We’re athletic enough. We’ve got to want it more. I think it will happen. It has to happen for us to try to win championships.”
Two weeks ago, Florida gave up a combined 175 points against Syracuse and Washington, allowing too many 3-pointers, putbacks and layups. Undersized FAMU finished with eight offensive rebounds, and three less than the Gators overall.
“We’re just not playing with energy,” Florida forward Chandler Parsons said. “We’re going through the motions and not really fired up about anything. We want to play for the University of Florida, and that starts on the defensive end because that’s what you have to do to win championships.”
On offense, Donovan wasn’t happy with upperclassmen Dan Werner and Walter Hodge, and they were benched late in the game.
Werner, third on the team with 11.1 points per game, went 1-of-5 from the field and finished with three points. Hodge also had three points, shooting 1-of-3.
“Two of our older guys can provide more for our team,” Donovan said. “We’ve got to find a way to get them to provide more.”
Seminoles senior guard Toney Douglas, meanwhile, led the team with 21 points against Northwestern on Wednesday night, but Florida State (7-1) lost 73-59 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Douglas added six rebounds, but turned the ball over seven times in the Seminoles’ first loss of the season. He tops Florida State with 19.3 points and 2.4 steals a contest.
While Douglas leads the Seminoles’ backcourt, freshman Chris Singleton has been the team’s top post player. He’s averaging 9.9 points and a team-best 7.9 rebounds.
The Gators lead the all-time series with the Seminoles 38-21.