UF's focus squarely on Auburn


Florida coach Billy Donovan watches his team against LSU on Jan. 21. UF has four regular season games left, including tonight.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 20, 2012 at 11:39 p.m.

Florida senior point guard Erving Walker said he tries to avoid looking for where the Gators are projected to go in the NCAA Tournament.

But when prodded, Walker admitted he “sometimes” checks NCAA Tournament mock websites.

“Joe Lunardi is wrong sometimes,” Walker said.

The Gators took a big step toward cementing an NCAA Tournament at-large berth with back-to-back road wins at Alabama and at Arkansas. But Florida coach Billy Donovan would rather his team focus squarely on tonight's game against Auburn at the O'Connell Center.

“I don't really talk to them about the seeding and those kind of things,” Donovan said. “I've always been a big believer you kind of take care what's in front of you right then, and now and talking about something that's going to be two or three weeks down the road, that will come.”




Florida, which moved up to No. 12 in this week's AP poll and No. 11 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, can clinch a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament this week with a win and a Tennessee loss. Two more wins would allow the Gators to clinch a bye outright.

A strong showing to close the regular season, and in the SEC Tournament, would help UF clinch a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament. After Auburn, the Gators have back-to-back road games with Georgia and Vanderbilt, then close the regular season at home with No. 1 Kentucky.

“I do think for our guys they understand if we continue to win, continue to play well, we'll get a better (NCAA Tournament) seed,” Donovan said.

Lunardi, ESPN's renowned bracketologist, currently has Florida pegged as a No. 4 seed in Albuquerque, N.M., playing No. 13 seed Oral Roberts. With the two road wins, Florida moved up nine spots to 17th in the NCAA.com's weekly RPI.

Florida junior guard Kenny Boynton said that with March looming the sense of urgency feels different in practice.

“Definitely,” Boynton said. “But you could easily focus on the tournament and pick up losses.”

Florida players and coaches have an appreciation for an Auburn team that's still undergoing some growing pains under second-year coach Tony Barbee. The Tigers are still limited offensively, but rank third in the SEC in field goal percentage defense. Auburn is holding opponents to just 40.5 percent shooting from the floor.

Donovan said that Auburn's ability to defend is a direct reflection of hustle. The Tigers are coming off a 65-55 win against Mississippi State.

“There is an element of speed, quickness, a want-to, an energy, an effort that needs to take place,” Donovan said. “I think they play in those things with great effort.”

That defensive intensity has allowed Auburn to stay in games. The Tigers have lost five of their eight SEC games by 10 points or less.

“If you go back and look at their statistics in the league, people look at their record (14-12, 4-8 SEC) maybe and draw opinions and conclusions about their team,” Donovan said. “But they went to Arkansas and lost by three, lost an overtime game at Ole Miss. On the road, they have played very, very well.

Rosario probable

Donovan said that junior guard Mike Rosario practiced on Sunday and is probable for tonight's game against Auburn.

“If he gets through practice (Monday), he will be able to play,” Donovan said.

Rosario, UF's leading scorer off the bench at 7.9 points per game, has missed the last three games with a hip injury. He sustained the injury in practice when he collided with teammate Cody Larson.

Donovan said the injury has impacted Rosario's ability to run and cut.

“I don't think he's going to put himself in a position where he's going to re-injure it or hurt it any worse than it's already been hurt,” Donovan said. “But I do think he has a lack of confidence in the injury in terms of working through it, because he just does not feel comfortable.”

Beal honored ... again

Florida freshman Bradley Beal was named SEC frehsman of the week for the sixth time this season.

The 6-foot-3 St. Louis native averaged 17.5 points per game in wins over Alabama and Arkansas. In the two wins, Beal also averaged 8.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals.

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Jr. 17.5 ppg, 2.6 apg

G Erving Walker 5-8 Sr. 12.4 ppg, 4.9 apg

G Bradley Beal 6-3 Fr. 14.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg

F Erik Murphy 6-10 Jr. 10.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg

C Patric Young 6-9 So. 10.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg

AUBURN PROBABLE STARTERS

G Frankie Sullivan 6-1 Jr. 12.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg

G Josh Wallace 5-10 Jr. 3.3 ppg, 1.9 apg

F Kenny Gabriel 6-8 Sr. 12.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg

F Adrian Forbes 6-8 Sr. 2.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg

C Rob Chubb 6-10 Jr. 8.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg

Notes: Auburn leads the all-time series with Florida, 87-71, but the Gators are 44-29 all-time against the Tigers at home. … Florida is 16-4 against Auburn under Billy Donovan. … The Gators lead the SEC in 3-pointers made at 10.3 per game and are second behind Vanderbilt in 3-point field goal percentage (39.6). … Florida also seems to have solved its early-season free-throw woes. In conference games, the Gators are shooting a league-high 75.3 percent from the line. … Back from a knee injury that sidelined him for most of last season, Sullivan is shooting 34.2 percent from 3-point range for Auburn with a team-high 52 3-point field goals. … Point guard Varez Ward, a Texas transfer, is averaging 9.2 points and 3.8 rebounds for Auburn off the bench. … With 270 3-pointers, Walker is four shy of tying Brett Nelson (274) for second on UF's all-time 3-point list. .

Three things to watch

1. Overconfidence

The Gators are a 17-point favorite against an Auburn team that hasn't beaten Florida at home in Billy Donovan's 16 seasons as coach. Also, Florida is coming off a 30-point win at Arkansas. Recipe for a letdown, right? Florida has to come with focus on both ends of the floor. Auburn will switch defenses throughout the game, so it will be important for Florida to remain patient and take quality shots.

2. Stopping Gabriel

Kenny Gabriel is a matchup problem for the Gators inside because of his ability to play to play both the small forward and power forward spot at 6-8. Gabriel is an exceptional leaper who gets most of his points in transition or on put-backs off offensive rebounds. It will be important for Florida to keep Gabriel off the boards to limit his second-chance opportunities. Sophomore UF forward Will Yeguete is back from a concussion and could play an important role off the bench in guarding Gabriel.

3. Foul trouble

Florida sophomore center Erik Murphy and Patric Young were saddled with foul trouble in each of UF's last two games. Young fouled out against Alabama and picked up four fouls against Arkansas. Florida coach Billy Donovan said that UF's guards need to do a better job defending on the perimeter to take pressure off Young and Murphy inside. “When our guards are being beat off the dribble it's putting a lot of pressure on (them) at the basket,” Donovan said.

Three questions

1. Can Florida come into the game with the right mindset and avoid overconfidence?

2. Can the Gators limit Auburn forward Kenny Gabriel's scoring in transition and on second-chance opportunities?

3. Can Florida's inside guys stay out of foul trouble and be productive?

Go to Gatorsports.com after the game for Kevin Brockway's answers.

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