ATLANTA -- If Florida’s basketball team was ever going to become a threat in the NCAA tournament again, coach Billy Donovan knew the Gators would have to get back to the principles of “Billy Ball.”
Most importantly, Donovan wanted his players to share the basketball and make opponents pick their poison on defense.
“You’ve got to be able to weather a bad shooting day,” Donovan said. “If you’ve got to have two guys score 20 points to win, what happens if they don’t score 20?”
The No. 12 Gators are headed to Sunday’s SEC championship game against No. 16 Kentucky -- and look like a legitimate threat in the upcoming NCAA tournament -- because they finally heeded their coach’s advice.
A day after each of Florida’s five starters scored 10 points or more in an 85-74 victory over Tennessee in the SEC tourney quarterfinals, guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker combined for 41 points and forward Chandler Parsons added 16 in a 77-66 win over No. 24 Vanderbilt in the semifinals at the Georgia Dome.
“I’ve always believed that you’re really predictable if you only have one or two options,” Donovan said. “I want to have five guys scoring 10 to 18 points a game.”
When the Gators won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and ’07, each of their five starters – guards Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey and forwards Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah – were capable of going off in any game.
“You become more difficult to defend,” Donovan said. “When I had Al Horford, he was capable of scoring 35 points. But he was more interested in doing what was needed to win.”
Although this Florida team isn’t nearly as talented as the squads that won two consecutive NCAA titles, they might be as unselfish and deep.
Parson, voted the SEC player of the year by the league’s coaches, is the team’s third-leading scorer with 11.6 points per game. Parsons leads the Gators with 7.7 rebounds and 111 assists.
Since 1996, every SEC player of the year ranked in the top 11 in scoring. Parsons currently ranks No. 24.
“I think it’s just the character of this team,” Parsons said. “We don’t have anyone who wants to go out and score 20 points. We have six or eight guys who are capable of going off.”
Boynton and Walker went off against the Commodores on Saturday, helping the Gators erase a 12-point deficit in the second half, which matched their biggest comeback of the season.
Boynton made five 3-pointers; Walker added three.
“They got hot in the second half and made some tough ones, but that’s what they do,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “That’s what they’ve done all season. That’s why they’re the league champion.”
By beating Vanderbilt, the Gators became the fifth team in school history to win 26 games in a season. The first four teams – in 1994, 2000, ’06 and ’07 – reached the Final Four.
“I don’t think we have the lottery picks [we had in ’06 and ’07],” Donovan said. “But I think we have a really good team that’s getting better and better.”