GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Billy Donovan has always been able to publicly criticize his team without being harsh. He's always tempered his words or found a palatable way to describe his disapproval.
He did it again on Saturday after the Gators' 75-70 loss to Tennessee -- which snapped a 19-game home winning streak -- when he said they were not hardened enough.
That's essentially a nice way of saying the Gators are soft.
"There's a competitive hardness that happens to you," Donovan said after the Gators' first back-to-back losses since the final two games of the 2009-10 season. "Our guys are not hardened enough right now. We have not been hardened."
Regardless of how Donovan phrases it, the bottom line is this: The seventh-ranked Gators aren't a mentally or physically tough group right now. It's more than just getting out-rebounded for the second consecutive game or getting outscored 36-14 in the paint. Or giving up 17 second-chance points.
It's about not being able to, and refusing to, play through fatigue -- in practice. It's about being distracted by and complaining about being fouled on a play -- in practice. It's about have such a poor practice on Thursday -- two days after a 20-point loss at Kentucky -- that Donovan made them come back and practice again.
It's about something even worse, according to junior guard Kenny Boynton.
"That's a mental thing with us," he said. "If we want to win we've got to work, and I think we're not working hard enough now in practice. He brought us back two times one day, so I think that's just a team thing where we've got to come in and work.
"Not everybody being there mentally. Some people practiced hard, some people didn't. Some people had mood swings, so basically that was the reason [they practiced twice]."
Florida (19-6, 7-3 Southeastern Conference) was put in a bad situation on Saturday because the Gators were without reserve guard Mike Rosario (hip) and reserve forward Cody Larson (illness) and then lost forward Will Yeguete to a concussion six minutes into the game. Without Yeguete to spell him, starting center Patric Young had to play 36 minutes -- eight above his season average -- and UF also missed Yeguete's 6.4 rebounds per game and his toughness.
UF also had to play guard Casey Prather in the frontcourt. He played 11 minutes, two more than he had played in the previous seven games combined, and he finished with one point, two rebounds, two turnovers and five fouls against the Vols (13-12, 5-5).
But none of that, Donovan said, is any excuse because the Gators lost Saturday's game on Thursday and Friday.
"There is a mentality and an understanding of what really goes into a preparation to really go out there and win," Donovan said. "I'm spending too much time in practice dealing with stuff I shouldn't be dealing with instead of dealing with preparation. A lot of it is our maturity level.
"I've gotta find a better way to get to them to be more productive than we've been. And you know what? I've seen them do it. I've seen them do it as a team. It's not like they've never done it. They've done it. But you know what? It's that maturity level. Sometimes we do it, sometimes we don't. And we went up against a team tonight that was veteran, experienced, deep and hardened, and that part of us got exposed today."
Donovan compared this team to the 2007-08 team with Nick Calathes, Chandler Parsons and Marreese Speights. That team had no idea about the dedication and hard work needed to be a championship team, and Donovan got so disgusted with them he kicked them out of the basketball facility, didn't allow them to wear UF practice apparel, and made them practice at the O'Connell Center before they began play in the NIT.
Donovan mentioned those letters again on Saturday, and freshman guard Bradley Beal said it served as a wakeup call.
"Coach Donovan wrote on the board that we're 7-3 in the league right now," Beal said. "Where we're going, we might be in the NIT if we don't just turn around right now and keep playing hard. If that didn't fit into our minds and really stick in our minds, then I don't know what's going to happen.
"We really have to turn around, and I think we'll do that."
But only if they get tougher.