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Donovan: Gators Need To Reach Potential

Florida coach Billy Donovan has a simple goal for the Gators: play to their potential. He doesn't believe the defending national champions have done that in recent games.

They have fallen behind early, been down big and struggled to put teams away when ahead. They've missed open shots, allowed too many easy baskets and failed to play with the kind of passion and energy that helped them sweep through the NCAA tournament last season.

Sure, the Gators won the Southeastern Conference championship and broke several school records along the way. But losing two of the last three games _ Florida got handled easily at Vanderbilt and LSU _ has been an eye-opener for Donovan.

"We've got to play better," Donovan said Monday. "That's the biggest concern. There's a lot of factoring you can look into and draw opinions and conclusions, but we're going to have to play better to have a chance to win."

Donovan said several things might have caused the recent slump _ physical tiredness, emotional fatigue, mental exhaustion, lack of commitment or maybe a letdown from clinching the league title last Wednesday night.

"I think there are a lot of human elements that are out there that to me are just excuses," Donovan said. "We can talk about all these things, but the bottom line is we need to play better for us to reach our potential and play to the best of our ability and there are no excuses."

The Gators (25-4, 12-2) dropped two spots to No. 5 in the latest Associated Press college basketball poll Monday and are probably in jeopardy of falling out of contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if they don't get back on track.

Florida plays at Tennessee on Tuesday night, needing to hand the Volunteers (20-9, 8-6) their first home loss of the season to avoid a two-game losing streak.

The Gators lost three in a row in late February last season, but rebounded to win 11 straight and their first national championship.

"Hopefully we can pick up the way we did last year and turn the season around and do the same thing we did last year and have the same outcome," forward Chris Richard said. "We've got a little slump, but as long as we turn it up when it needs to be turned up, and that starts (Tuesday) night, I think we'll be OK."

Florida's biggest problems lately _ aside from getting in big deficits early _ have been poor shooting and even worse defense.

Even though the Gators still lead the nation in field goal percentage, they have allowed opponents to shoot 54 percent from the field the last three games while making 43 percent. They also have struggled from 3-point range _ on offense and defense.

Guards Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey were a combined 12-of-46 from the floor the last three games, including 7-of-28 from 3-point range. Green also had five assists and eight turnovers in the stretch.

Corey Brewer hasn't been much better, going 4-of-14 from 3-point range with six assists and 12 turnovers in games against Vanderbilt, South Carolina and LSU.

Even Joakim Noah, the team's usually steady and always-enthusiastic leader, has been in a slump. Noah was 4-of-14 from the field the last two games, scored a combined 10 points and played with little energy.

"Every team is coming at us like it's the last game of their life," Richard said. "I think it's a sign of respect. A lot of teams are coming at us like it's their championship game, so we have to come in and try to match the focus they have and try to match the intensity they come out with. We can't afford to go down anymore at the half by 11 or 12 points. We need to be the team that's on top like we were last year. We have to come in, try to take the game over in the beginning."

And play to their potential.

"There's potential, there's ability and we got to understand that we've got to play to that potential and ability to reach our full potential as a team," Donovan said. "That's hat it's all about."