Three days after losing to No. 13 Georgia on Sunday, coach Amanda Butler silently reminded her squad of its inability to finish games inside the O’Connell Center.
Florida’s 62-57 defeat — its most recent loss — burned brightly on the scoreboard as the Gators began practice.
Close losses have deflated UF’s season, especially during Southeastern Conference play. The Gators, tied with Missouri for ninth in the conference at 4-8, have been plagued with an inability to finish games in the final minutes.
Of Florida’s eight losses in the SEC, seven have come by fewer than 10 points. Only three of UF’s 11 losses on the season have been by double figures.
“We’ve lost these ball games by four points, five points, six points,” Butler said. “That’s two possessions, that’s three possessions that have got to go differently.”
Late-game execution has been problematic for the Gators.
In the final 2 minutes of regulation or overtime in games decided by three possessions or fewer, Florida is shooting just 37.7 percent from the floor, a decrease from the 43.2 percent it shoots in other situations.
An even bigger drop has been the team’s free-throw shooting. The Gators make just 51.7 percent of their attempts from the foul line in the final 2 minutes of regulation or overtime in close games, compared to 67.2 percent otherwise.
“It’s a lack of focus for us sometimes,” junior guard Jaterra Bonds said. “Just getting caught up in the play before or getting too nervous.”
Butler characterized the late-game struggles as a product of having an inexperienced team lacking floor awareness.
“What you expect when you have an inexperienced team is that they are not understanding the moments,” Butler said. “We’ll show them clips from a men’s game the night before like with Butler and Gonzaga. … We’re just constantly trying to teach basketball in a way that they have never really had to think of it before.”
The referenced play came in Butler’s 64-63 win against Gonzaga came on Jan. 19 in Indianapolis. Gonzaga guard David Stockton overthrew an inbounds pass with 3.5 seconds remaining. Butler’s Roosevelt Jones scooped up the loose ball and hit the game-winning shot as time expired to give Butler a 64-63 victory.
UF’s coaches have used that clip, as well as others, to highlight the importance of fundamentally sound play late in games, something Florida will attempt to do against Vanderbilt tonight at 7 in the O’Connell Center.
The Gators fell victim to a last-second miscue in last season’s loss to the Commodores.
Trailing 65-62, Vanderbilt guard Christina Foggie connected on a three-pointer to tie the contest at the buzzer on Feb. 16, 2012. The Commodores used a 6-0 run late in overtime to win the game 75-69, underscoring Florida’s poor performance down the stretch in close games.
“Toward the end of the game, again we didn’t execute like we should have,” redshirt freshman Carlie Needles said.
“We let Christina Foggie get the ball, and she banked in a three. It’s really hard to beat a team in overtime, especially on their home court. We’ve just got to be really aware and smart this time.”
Contact Phillip Heilman at [email protected].