Florida surges past Missouri in SEC tourney quarterfinals
Published: Friday, March 14, 2014 at 2:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 14, 2014 at 8:09 p.m.
ATLANTA — After an early stretch of missed shots from close range and self-described “bonehead” turnovers, No. 1 Florida needed something to shake out of its doldrums in an early Friday afternoon matchup with Missouri.
Who: No. 1 Florida Gators (30-2, 19-0 SEC) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (21-11, 12-7)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
The Gators got it from a reliable source.
Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin made two 3-pointers during a 12-0 second-half run that helped Florida pull away and beat Missouri 72-49 in the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals in the Georgia Dome.
Florida will move on to meet Tennessee (21-11) in the semifinals at 1 p.m. today (ABC). The Vols advanced with a 59-44 win over South Carolina on Friday. Florida swept the regular-season series with Tennessee, beating the Vols 67-41 in Gainesville and 67-58 in Knoxville, Tenn.
“I just want to beat Florida, just for pride's sake,” Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes said. “I want to come out of this thing with a win.”
The Gators (30-2) won their 24th straight game and reached 30 wins for just the third time in program history. UF's previous two 30-win seasons (33 in 2005-06 and 35 in 2006-07) resulted in national championships.
“It's hard to win 30 games,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “So I think what these guys have done, at least up to this point in time in the regular season, was truly special. But now we're in a different part of our season, being postseason play. But I think for any team to win 30 games, it's very difficult.”
There were times early when Florida didn't look like a team closing in on 30 wins. The Gators turned the ball over four times in their first seven possessions and took some questionable mid-range shots against Missouri's match-up zone.
“Some of those turnovers were just bonehead mistakes as far as them not doing anything to make us turn the ball over,” Florida senior center Patric Young said. “It was just us not executing passing and catching, pretty much.”
Florida shot just 34.6 percent in the first half and 45.5 percent from the free-throw line (5 of 11). As a result, Missouri went into the locker room tied with Florida 29-all after a wide-open dunk from center Ryan Rosburg just before the first-half buzzer.
“We don't need to be coming out slow like that,” Wilbekin said. “It doesn't help us at all. We need to have a high intensity for 40 minutes and we only had it for 20 minutes in this game.”
Donovan refused to use the six-day layoff between games as an excuse for UF's slow start.
“I was disappointed in our first half,” Donovan said. “I thought we looked a little bit out of it. Didn't play as well as we would have hoped to.”
Florida started the second half on a 7-0 run, taking a 36-29 lead on a driving floater in the lane from freshman point guard Kasey Hill. But Missouri (22-11) responded, cutting Florida's lead to 38-36 on a driving layup from junior point guard Jordan Clarkson.
That's when the Gators found another gear. It began with a simple play, a Hill dump pass inside to senior forward Will Yeguete for a layup. Wilbekin then stole the following in-bounds play from Missouri center Keanau Post. A give-and-go with Yeguete followed, with Wilbekin springing open for a left corner 3-pointer that put UF ahead 43-36.
“I was hollering at him because I wanted it back,” Wilbekin said.
Young followed with a hook shot and senior forward Casey Prather made two free throws to put UF ahead 47-36. Wilbekin then hit a 3-pointer, capping a 12-0 run in which seniors scored all 12 of UF's points.
In the face of a potential upset loss, Florida kept its poise.
“We never really panic in those situations,” Young said. “Panicking is the worst thing that you can do. We just think about what's next, how can we get out of this slump or funk that we're going in and pick it up on the defensive end because that's the side we're most consistent with.”
Wilbekin and Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II each had 15 points to lead the Gators. Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith added 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench. The Gators shot 57.1 percent from 3-point range (12 of 21), which offset some of its free-throw shooting woes (10 of 20).
Florida outrebounded Missouri 35-30, had 19 points off turnovers and outscored Missouri 13-3 on second-chance points.
“They were getting second shots and I thought that was the difference in the game,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “Then when we needed to score when they went on a run, we were not able to continue to score.”
UF's defense also clamped down, limiting Missouri to just six field goals in the second half.
“We were a little more patient,” Donovan said of his offense in the second half. “We did a better job.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 13.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 13.0 ppg, 3.8 apg
F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr 14.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg
TENNESSEE PROBABLE STARTERS
G Josh Richardson 6-6 Jr. 9.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg
G Antonio Barton 6-2 Sr. 7.7 ppg, 2.1 apg
G Jordan McRae 6-6 Sr. 18.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg
F Jarnell Stokes 6-9 Fr. 14.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg
C Jeronne Maymon 6-8 Sr. 10.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg
Notes: Florida is 39-45 all-time at the SEC tournament and 24-14 under coach Billy Donovan. In his 18th season at UF, Donovan has led the Gators to three SEC tournament titles (2005, 2006, 2007). The Gators also made the tourney finals in 2004, 2011 and 2013. … Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II is shooting an SEC-best 44.9 percent from 3-point range and is 23 of 38 from beyond the arc (60.5 percent) over his last four games. … Florida sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith, named the SEC’s sixth man of the year earlier this week, is averaging 9.4 points and 6.9 rebounds off the bench. … Tennessee has won five straight and hasn’t trailed during the stretch. … The Vols are vying for their first SEC tournament championship since 1979.
Three things to watch
1. Stopping Stokes
Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes is a load to handle inside. Stokes posted his 37th career double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) in Tennessee’s 59-44 quarterfinal win Friday over South Carolina. Look for the Gators to double-team Stokes in the post and keep a body on him at all times. Florida also will look to push the tempo in an effort to wear down the 6-foot-8, 260-pound Stokes in the second half.
2. Florida’s perimeter shooting
The Georgia Dome didn’t faze UF’s shooters in their SEC tournament quarterfinal win over Missouri. Florida went 12 of 21 from 3-point range (57.1 percent) against the Tigers. The Gators have made eight or more 3-pointers in each of their last seven games. Look for Florida to work the ball inside-out to get some quality looks at the basket.
3. Florida’s press
The Gators will need to generate points off turnovers to counter Tennessee’s size at the basket. Tennessee senior point guard Antonio Barton is shaky with the ball at times. Florida has forced an average of 15.2 turnovers over its last six games.