UK Men's Basketball

Florida's Donovan insists experience is overrated

Coach Billy Donovan says his 2006 champion Gators led by three sophomores proved experience is overrated.
Coach Billy Donovan says his 2006 champion Gators led by three sophomores proved experience is overrated. ASSOCIATED PRESS

When it's close, there's likely to be no victory cigar for Kentucky's freshman-oriented basketball team.

By contrast, Florida, one of the Southeastern Conference's most experienced teams, has won seven of 10 games decided by six or fewer points this season.

Which means . . . nothing going into Kentucky's game in Gainesville on Saturday night, Florida Coach Billy Donovan said Thursday.

"You still have to execute and perform and do those things," Donovan said in shooting down the suggestion that experience makes the difference in winning close games. "And just because you did it last time doesn't mean you're going to do it (again)."

To prove his point, Donovan noted Kentucky's 35-3 powerhouse team of last season.

"Last year's Kentucky team with all those young guys did pull out close games," he said.

Still not convinced? Donovan then cited his 2005-06 Florida team. Led by sophomores Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah, the Gators lacked experience.

"No NCAA experience," Donovan said. "You have to have an experienced team to go deep in the (NCAA) tournament.

"And they proved that wrong."

So far this season, Florida has won all three of its games that went into overtime. Those wins bring the Gators' record in games decided by six or fewer points and/or overtime to 8-3 (5-1 in the SEC).

Florida starts three seniors, Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons, plus junior Erving Walker and sophomore Kenny Boynton. As a transfer from Georgetown, Macklin is a fifth-year senior. Tyus, Parsons and Walker have each scored more than 1,000 points in their careers.

Kentucky starts two freshmen, Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight. A third, Doron Lamb, means first-year players make up half of UK's six-man rotation. Of UK's six regulars, only Darius Miller has scored more than 430 career points. He's got 647.

Donovan dismissed that disparity of experience as any factor if Kentucky and Florida are locked in a close game going into the final minutes on Saturday.

"I think just because we've won some close games does not ensure that we're going to win them going forward," the Florida coach said. "I've always believed this: Anything that happened in the past has no bearing on the next time you're in that situation. Other than the fact there is a level of familiarity, you still have to make the plays that are necessary."

Surprisingly, given the success in close games, Florida has only made 64.9 percent of its free throws. In three overtime victories against SEC teams, the Gators made only 63.4 percent of their free throws (52-for-82).

Kentucky's record in games decided by seven or fewer points is 2-4 (1-3 in the SEC).

The Cats' 71-69 loss at Ole Miss on Tuesday represented progress, Coach John Calipari said on his weekly radio show. For the last-second attempt to pull off a Laettner, UK tried the same play as in the final seconds at Alabama two weeks earlier. At Alabama, the intended shooter — Doron Lamb — never got the ball. At Ole Miss, he did.

"We executed for the first time," Calipari said.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader