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Friday, May 20, 2022

Heading into the season, UF coach Billy Donovan cleared his plate, lowered his expectations and hoped for the best.

He could never predict how far this team would go, and he didn't try.

Now, with only two regular-season games remaining, the questions are beginning to mount for the two-time defending national champion coach, whose players have noticed the wear and tear of such a difficult season.

"You can tell he's a lot more stressed than he was at the beginning of the year," forward Adam Allen said. "He's really been pressing here lately and I'm sure he's going through a hard time. He probably can't sleep at night."

The likely causes of Donovan's apparent insomnia are the worries all coaches have. The Gators (21-8, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) are on the bubble for the first time in a long time after a disappointing loss to Mississippi State.

The Gators have made the NCAA Tournament nine consecutive times, and the streak is hanging by a thread.

UF probably needs to win one of its next two, which is no easy task. The Gators first host No. 4 Tennessee on Wednesday before heading to Lexington to take on Kentucky in the season finale.

This probably accounts for why Donovan, as Allen said, seems more uptight than usual.

"He's in the office a lot more than he usually is. He was up here 8 [Sunday night]," Allen said. "Sunday nights at the office, you know."

Donovan hasn't dealt with this type of anxiety in a long time - not since 2004, when former UF forward Christian Drejer left a Gators team with a 5-6 conference record and headed for Spain, has Donovan felt such pressure.

Donovan said he wasn't aware he was acting any differently.

"I would be disappointed if [Allen] would have felt like I've changed from October 15 to now," Donovan said. "I would be more disappointed of how he viewed me in October and November versus how he views me now."

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He deflected any notion of being more stressed than usual and pointed out his preseason notions. Before this team took the court, Donovan expressed skepticism about its heart and ability to compete at its fullest potential.

"I don't like the passion, the fire, the intensity that we play with on a regular basis," he said. "For whatever reason, I haven't been able to get that out of them."

Due to the success of the program during the past two years, expectations for this squad were inflated. Donovan said he thought even his players felt they would walk into Gainesville and leave as champions.

This path and this process, he said, are harder than they can understand.

"If there's one thing I think I could do a better job of," Donovan said, "it would be to get them to be more embodied in terms of reflecting me and my personality."

Donovan expressed regret at not instilling this toughness in his players, but agreed there is still time to grow.

"I don't know if it's ever fun," Donovan said. "Fun would not be a word that I would use."

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