Florida seniors not taking SEC tourney lightly

Florida center Patric Young stands and watches as Ole Miss celebrates after winning in the SEC Tournament final at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., in 2013.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer/FILE
Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 12:08 a.m.

With a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament already assured, it would be easy for No. 1 Florida to write off the Southeastern Conference tournament this week and prepare for the next step.

But for Florida's seniors, the chance to cut down the nets in Atlanta is personal, a last notch in a belt full of accomplishments.

UF's seniors have won three of four SEC regular-season titles, but have been unable to win an SEC tournament title in their first three seasons on campus. In referring to that dry spell, Florida senior center Patric Young tweeted: “Unfinished Business.”

The Gators will begin that quest Friday afternoon in the SEC tournament quarterfinals at 1 p.m. in the Georgia Dome against the winner of the 8-9 seed game between Missouri and Texas A&M.

“We have some time to prepare and get ourselves better,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “We will take on with the next challenge at a neutral site against teams that we might not have seen in some time, teams that have gotten better and improved. I think our guys are excited and understand that.”

In the afterglow of becoming the first team to finish an SEC regular season 18-0, Donovan gave his players Sunday and Monday off from practice. Donovan said the team went through some meetings Monday afternoon.

“We'll have three solid days to practice,” Donovan said. “I would like for these guys to be able to come back to practice (Tuesday) energized, excited and enthusiastic to get ready to play.”

Florida, which retained the No. 1 ranking in the country for the third straight week, will come into the tournament as heavy favorites. The Gators are the only ranked team remaining in the SEC after knocking off last week's No. 25, Kentucky, 84-65 on Saturday at the O'Connell Center. Florida (29-2, 18-0 SEC) has won a school-record 23 straight, dating back to a 65-64 loss Dec. 2 at Connecticut.

In its previous two trips to the SEC tournament as No. 1 seed, the Gators lost 70-54 in the 2011 finals to Kentucky and 66-63 in the 2013 finals to Ole Miss.

“Everybody in the league starts out and it's 0-0,” Donovan said. “It's kind of a new season so to speak over a five-day event.”

Donovan said he enjoys the enthusiasm that the SEC tournament generates for the league, but is not a fan of the final game being on Selection Sunday. The reason? He feels it's unfair for a team to turn around and play an NCAA tournament game on Thursday after playing three games in three days from Friday through Sunday the preview weekend.

For Donovan, it goes back to the 2003-04 season, when the Gators reached the SEC tournament finals but lost 89-73 to Kentucky on a Sunday afternoon. The following Thursday, the fifth-seeded Gators, playing in Raleigh, N.C., were upset by 12th-seed Manhattan 75-60 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. UF's second-leading scorer on the team, former guard Matt Walsh, was plagued with a torn callus in his foot that never fully healed.

“The NCAA ... sometimes they can't do anything about it,” Donovan said. “But that would be one thing I would really take a hard look at. And I think our league should look at it, too. Are we better off backing up our conference tournament and ending it on Saturday. Just end it on Saturday and give everybody Sunday off and figure out who's in the tournament and who's not and move from there.”

By locking up a No. 1 seed, the Gators will almost definitely open the NCAA tournament on Thursday, March 20 in Orlando. But Donovan said that won't change UF's approach heading into the SEC tournament. The Gators, Donovan said, will be playing to win their first league tourney since 2007.

“There's not going to be anything from our perspective where you sit there and say, 'OK, because it's Sunday, let's bail on this tournament early,'” Donovan said. “We're not going to do that. We're going to try to do the very, very best we can if we're fortunate enough to play three days.”

SEC Player of Week

Florida's Michael Frazier II and Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes were named co-SEC Players of the Week.

Frazier, a 6-foot-4, 199-pound sophomore guard from Tampa, averaged 23 points in wins at South Carolina and against Kentucky. His 11 3-pointers against USC are an SEC record for league games and a Florida record. His 37 points tied for the most by a Gator since the 1982-83 season.

Yeguete earns SEC honor

Florida senior forward Will Yeguete was named to the SEC men's basketball community service team on Monday.

Yeguete is involved in a number of outreach programs at UF, including visiting sick children at Shands Hospital and speaking at local elementary schools about the importance of fitness and maintaining good grades.

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

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