David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Friday afternoon’s game between Florida and LSU at the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
In the past, the Florida Gators have been accused of not emphasizing the importance of the SEC Tournament. The Gators have largely sleep-walked through it since a run of three straight championships from 2005 to 2007 – the last two of those teams, of course, went on two win the national championship as well. Since that time, they have advanced past the quarterfinals only twice, even when they’ve been a superior team versus their early-round opponents. If Friday’s dismantling of LSU is any indication, this year will be different. Coach Billy Donovan’s team, which appeared to be a contender for a #1- or #2-seed just a few weeks ago, limped down the stretch in losing four of its last five on the road, including a meltdown in the final eight minutes in the regular season finale at Kentucky. It is clear Donovan wants this team to right the ship heading into the NCAA Tournament, and the team’s focus in the win over LSU was evident. The Gators were on from the perimeter – usually a sign that things are going well for them – hitting 11-of-20 from three-point range. Senior forward Erik Murphy was particularly hot, making 5-of-7 from three point range on his way to a game-high 27 points and 12 rebounds.
Part of the reason Florida struggled down the stretch of the regular season was the absence of junior forward Will Yeguete, who missed six games because of a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery. He returned in a limited role in the Gators’ third-to-last game against Alabama, but continues to work himself into game shape. Friday’s 21 minutes were the most he has played since January, and the energy he brings to his team is evident. At 6’7″, he is the Gators’ most efficient rebounder and best defender. Yeguete is able to guard in the post and the perimeter, and there is no question that he is a key to Florida’s success from here.