The ball left Mike Rosario’s hand and flew more than 21 feet before it finally hit nothing but hardwood. No clang, no swish. Just a swift rotation of leather cutting through an air-conditioned arena.
His badly missed shot, taken early in the shot clock, made Rosario glance over to coach Billy Donovan and his teammates.
Though Rosario had scored seven straight Florida points and helped build a nine-point lead before his miss with 8:44 left in the first half, he would be taking a seat 19 seconds later to explain his decision-making to an annoyed coach.
“You know, and he’s beautiful,” Donovan said of Rosario. “He [told me], ‘Well, I was open,’ and I said, ‘Well, you know what? … If you’re going to claim yourself as being a good shooter and you actually shoot an airball when you’re open, at least tell me the ball slipped out of your hands or something.”
Rosario, a redshirt junior guard, may be Florida’s leading bench scorer at 8.2 points per game, but that alone has not made him an ideal sixth man for the Gators. From this season’s outset, Donovan has been trying to mold Rosario’s pure scoring skills into a more complete player.
“Mike’s always and has been a proven scorer, so what he did was not uncharacteristic of his ability,” Donovan said.
With back and ankle injuries keeping Rosario out or limiting him in UF’s last six games, Florida has seen its bench held below double-digit scoring four times, including a season-low one point against Tennessee.
Finally healthy against Georgia, Rosario re-entered the game a little more than two minutes later, and added a new dimension that Donovan said hasn’t been seen in two Gators’ losses during that stretch.
Rosario snagged two steals and assisted on two Brad Beal 3-pointers to close the half. In 12 minutes of playing time, Rosario had a hand in 13 points.
“It felt great,” Rosario said. “To go out there and be able to just compete again to my full ability. Now that I’m healthy, I’ve got a lot to bring to the table for the team, so I felt like the opportunity was there tonight.”
While Donovan characterized Florida as a team that struggles with offensive consistency, Rosario’s ability to provide quick scoring bursts has proven effective in the past. He scored seven points in six minutes during the first half of Florida’s overtime win against Arizona on Dec. 7.
“Getting those seven points in the first half, that helps your team,” Donovan said of Rosario’s most recent performance. “It’s interesting because I feel like people look at us as being this great scoring team. When you talk about scoring — guys that can put the ball in their hands, guys that can score — we’re a really, really good shooting team, but what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to understand we have to utilize our shooting.”
In the second half, Rosario hoisted another long three that was well off target. This time, Donovan kept him in.
“He respects us as players,” Rosario said. “He knows that I know the difference between a bad shot and good shot, so that’s why he didn’t pull me out of the game. That’s what he told me, so I was like, ‘Thanks, coach.’”
Contact John Boothe at [email protected].