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Gators ran out of players and energy

UF's regular-season rally left it ill-equipped to make a tournament run, coach Billy Donovan says.

In the end, Florida ran into more than Temple's stingy matchup zone and hot shooting guards in its second-round NCAA Tournament loss.

It hit a wall.

After fighting its way through an injury-plagued regular season, the Gators simply ran out of energy in Sunday's 75-54 loss, failing to reach their third consecutive Sweet 16.

"It was a long, emotional year," coach Billy Donovan said Monday in Gainesville. "There was a lot of stuff these guys dealt with. And with every game, every day that went by, more and more was taken out of them because they had to play at such a high level to win."

Chemistry built during a two-week overseas trip in July was tested in January when starters Brent Wright, Teddy Dupay and Justin Hamilton were injured. A demoralizing two-point loss to Vanderbilt at home typified a 1-3 start in SEC play.

"Things had happened so quickly," Donovan said. "I could sense the guys were a little bit unsure of themselves because we were relying on guys like Orien Greene, LaDarius Halton and Bonell Colas, who hadn't played many minutes."

As Wright and Dupay returned less than three weeks after surgery, Florida put together a string of victories. It won 11 of its final 12 regular-season games, including six against ranked teams, to share in its second consecutive SEC championship.

The Gators received the program's highest NCAA seed, No. 3 in the South Region, and were a vogue pick to reach the Final Four.

But expectations did not reflect reality.

The Gators, numbers and health dwindling, had expended so much energy salvaging the regular season, they had none for the post-season. At a time when most teams shift to a higher gear, Florida's were stripped.

The result was embarrassing: a 20-point halftime deficit from which the Gators could not recover.

"I look back on this season to what we accomplished with such little depth, and for the first time all year long, emotionally and physically, we hit a wall a little bit," Donovan said. "We have always been a great comeback team. That was a sign to me that our guys had hit a wall."

PELPHREY INTERVIEWS: Donovan and assistant coaches John Pelphrey, Anthony Grant and Donnie Jones have been together seven seasons, since Donovan got his first head-coaching job at Marshall. But that may not last much longer.

Pelphrey spoke Sunday night with athletic department officials from New Orleans about their coaching vacancy. Joey Stiebing was fired two weeks after being was named Sun Belt Conference coach of the year.

Pelphrey declined to comment.

"I've seen a lot of college coaches hold assistants hostage," Donovan said. "Obviously, any of these guys would be very, very difficult to replace. At the same time, they have goals and dreams and aspirations, and I need to help them."

RECRUITING SEASON: Donovan was scheduled to leave this morning for a three-day recruiting trip. He coyly refused to reveal his destination, saying only that it is outside the state of Florida.

Though one scholarship remains available for the 2001 class, he does not expect to find a worthy player this late in the process.

His efforts will be toward high school juniors for the 2002 class.

_ Correspondent Debi Jones contributed to this report.