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Gators need no motivation in regular-season finale

In November, shortly before archrival Florida State arrived in Gainesville, Florida coach Billy Donovan pulled out one of those motivational tactics for which he has become so well-known.

When his players reported to practice, he surprised them with a movie. But the stars weren't George Clooney and Matt Damon.

"I let them watch a film about how a pride of lions hunts (to illustrate) that they've got to work in teams and in unison for the pack to survive," Donovan said Friday. "It was just an interesting thing I thought of teamwork. The point I was trying to make to those guys was the prey they were going after and what they were trying to do, they weren't big enough or strong enough to do it by themselves. They had to rely on each other.

"So I've done different things like that to get them to understand a pack mentality, to understand working together, to understand that you can't get where you want to get to without the guy standing next to you."

If ever the Gators needed that pack mentality, it is now.

Florida closes out the regular season this afternoon at Kentucky. With the Gators having lost six of their past nine and Kentucky sitting at 17 wins (11 in the SEC), some have deemed this an NCAA play-in game — or a play-your-way-out-of-the-tournament game.

"We need a win," sophomore forward Dan Werner said. "As far as play-in game, I don't know what the (NCAA) committee does and what goes into it. I just know we need to get a win."

The last time these teams met, Florida was on a roll and Kentucky was in a downward spiral. Now their fortunes are reversed.

The Wildcats have won 10 of their past 12 and with a win could secure the No. 2 seed in the SEC tournament. Florida might need a few more wins to get an NCAA Tournament berth. Six of Kentucky's top seven scorers have missed at least one game with an injury — a combined 37 games. But the Wildcats have persevered, a testament to their mental toughness, first-year coach Billy Gillispie said.

"It'd be hard to be much tougher," he said. "They've obviously been through quite a bit with the distractions of the injuries and a new coach coming in. They've handled everything well. … They've been tough enough down the stretch to be able to win, and it makes you really proud to be able to coach them."

Florida is coming off an emotional loss to Tennessee at home Wednesday, and Donovan said he's eager to see how well they shake off the disappointment.

"I think the best thing for our team is we had to play Tennessee at home and now we're going to Rupp," he said. "To have to go through those hardening experiences of (Wednesday) night and then get ourselves emotionally and physically ready to try to go into Rupp, I think that's a great thing in terms of our team getting and gaining an idea and understanding of what this is all about."

Unfortunately for Florida, it's senior day at Rupp Arena, and the Wildcats are 82-5 on senior day. But Florida has won seven straight over Kentucky during the past four seasons.

"I don't know the last time we beat them," Wildcats senior Ramel Bradley said. "It's not good to have a streak like that. … The only way we are going to win this game is if we put that behind us and prepare."

In reality, the streak is the last thing on Florida's mind.

"It's a huge game for us," freshman guard Nick Calathes said. "We're just going to go in with the mind-set of playing our game plan and trying to win. It will be a good win for us to take into the SEC tournament."

Antonya English can be reached




at Kentucky

When/where: Noon; Rupp Arena, Lexington

TV/radio: Ch. 10; 620-AM

Records: Florida 21-9, 8-7 SEC; Kentucky 17-11, 11-4

Scouting report: Look for Rupp Arena to be emotionally charged. This is Billy Donovan's first trip to Lexington since he spurned advances by Kentucky to become its coach last spring. Expect the Big Blue faithful to make him pay. And it's senior day for Kentucky's players and a game between teams needing to knock each other off to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Add a national television audience and you have the makings for what even Donovan had to admit is a very big game.

Antonya English,

Times staff writer

Gators need no motivation in regular-season finale 03/08/08 [Last modified: Saturday, March 8, 2008 8:07pm]
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