Florida, LSU prepare for physical clash


Florida guard Kenny Boynton scrambles for a loose ball in front of LSU guard Malik Morgan during the Gators' 74-52 road win on Jan. 12. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Published: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 8:33 p.m.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida coaches and players insist there is motivation to play well in the SEC Tournament.

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Florida guard Kenny Boynton scrambles for a loose ball in front of LSU guard Malik Morgan during the Gators' 74-52 road win on Jan. 12. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Facts

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Who: No. 13 Florida Gators (24-6, 14-4 SEC) vs. LSU Tigers (19-11, 10-9)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.
Gainesville-area TV: ESPNU
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM

The top-seeded Gators (24-6, 14-4 SEC) will face LSU in the SEC Tournament quarterfinal matchup this afternoon. LSU led by as many as 23 points in the first half Thursday before holding off Georgia, 68-63, to advance to the quarterfinals.

Florida has won three SEC Tournaments in 16 prior seasons under current coach Billy Donovan.

“I just look at right now that this is what's in front of us,” Donovan said. “You have 14 teams that are going to go to Nashville and compete for this. And you're playing for a championship. So to me, I'm not worried about the (NCAA Tournament) seed part of it. I'm not worried about anything else but the fact that we get an opportunity for three days to potentially play for another championship.”

Looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament would be foolish at this point, considering what's at stake. Florida is currently projected as a No. 3 seed in most NCAA Tournament bracket projections, but a quarterfinal loss to LSU could drop UF to a No. 4 seed. The Gators are 3-3 over their last six games, with all three losses coming on the road.

Win the SEC Tournament, and Florida could potentially work its way up a No. 2 seed depending on what happens in the rest of the country. The Gators are ranked No. 6 in the NCAA's official RPI and are 5-4 against the RPI Top 50.

“It's our next challenge,” Florida junior forward Will Yeguete said. “We want to play for championships here. We have a chance to win a championship if we win every game in the SEC Tournament. ... We are here to compete. We just want to win.”

Florida hasn't won the SEC Tournament since winning three straight from 2005-07. The Gators reached the SEC Tournament final in 2011, but lost 70-54 to Kentucky. Last season, Florida reached the SEC Tournament semifinals before falling 74-71 to eventual national champion Kentucky.

Drawing LSU in the semifinals will present an early challenge. The Tigers have played better of late, going 10-5 in their last 15 games under first-year coach Johnny Jones.

Florida beat LSU 74-52 in the only meeting between the two schools this season on Jan. 12. The Gators won the game with a significant advantage on the boards, out-rebounding LSU 53-34. Yeguete posted a double-double in the game with 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Rebounding remains a concern for LSU. The Tigers beat Georgia despite being out-rebounded 48-34 and giving up 18 second-chance points.

“That's an area we're going to have to really improve on,” Jones said. “It's going to be a war zone down there. Florida is strong. They're very physical and they'll get to the basket and also rebound the ball strong. That will be an area that we'll have to clean up.”

Florida has made rebounding a priority in practice this week, because the Gators have been out-rebounded in five of their last six games. Donovan said he planned to put the bubbles on rims in an effort to get back to a more physical style of play.

In earning the opening-round bye, Florida had extra time to practice and work on a variety of issues. Florida arrived in Nashville on Thursday afternoon after practicing at its basketball facility on Thursday morning. UF assistant coach Matt McCall made the trip ahead of the team to scout the LSU-Georgia game.

“The only thing that I regret is that this is not spring break this week, because (for spring break), there's no time frame, there's no 20-hour rule,” Donovan said. “We had that last week. We need to get better in some areas. They've seen the film. We've talked about it.”

Florida also is looking for improvement from its sputtering offense. The Gators have averaged just 62.3 points over their last five games. A big reason? Florida's assist-to-turnover ratio is 63 to 59 during that stretch.

“We need to get out in transition more than we have of late,” Donovan said. “I think we need to get back to really doing a better job with handling, passing and sharing the ball.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 12.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg

G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 12.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg

G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Jr. 9.0 ppg, 5.1 apg

F Erik Murphy 6-10 Sr. 12.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg

C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 10.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg

LSU PROBABLE STARTERS

G Andre Stringer 5-9 Jr. 10.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg

G Anthony Hickey 5-11 So. 11.5 ppg, 3.9 apg

G Charles Carmouche 6-4 Sr. 10.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg

F Shavon Coleman 6-5 Jr. 10.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg

C Johnny O'Bryant III 6-9 So.13.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg

Notes: Florida opens SEC Tournament play against LSU, a team the Gators beat 74-52 in their lone meeting Jan. 12 in Baton Rouge. … Florida is 21-13 in SEC Tournament games under Billy Donovan. The Gators won three straight SEC Tournaments from 2005-2007 and also reached the SEC Tournament finals in 2004 and 2011. … Florida will be looking to bounce back from a 61-57 loss at Kentucky to close the regular season. The Gators have yet to lose two games in a row this season. … The Gators rank third in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 53.2 points per game. The Gators have held 12 opponents under 50 points and 21 opponents under 60 points. … Offensively, Florida is shooting just 32.2 percent from 3-point range over its last six games (38-118). … Florida will need to be careful with the basketball, because LSU averages 9.2 steals and 15.1 turnovers forced per game. … LSU point guard Anthony Hickey leads the SEC in steals with 3 per game. … Florida's bench could also play a big factor in the SEC Tournament. Junior forward Casey Prather is averaging 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds, while junior forward Will Yeguete (5.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and freshman Michael Frazier II (6 ppg, 48.4 percent shooting from 3-point range) also have provided production during the course of the season. … Florida is 2-0 in neutral-court games this season, with wins over Middle Tennessee State (66-45 in Tampa) and Air Force (78-61 in Sunrise). Florida's 67-61 loss to Kansas State in Kansas City, Mo., was considered a road game because Kansas State had control of the distribution of tickets.

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