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Tuesday January 29, 2013Yeguete's Hustle Symbolic of Gators' Recent Success as South Carolina Come to O'Dome

Gainesville, Fla.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- More than once during film sessions with his team, Florida coach Billy Donovan has made a point to air highlights of vintage plays turned in by junior forward Will Yeguete.

Yeguete batting away a pass that leads to a transition basket.

Yeguete fighting to tip an offensive rebound that a teammate grabs for a put-back.

Yeguete sprawling across the floor for a loose ball.

Yeguete taking a charge.

They’re all examples of plays that are invisible in a box score, yet taken on the whole can make all the difference in determining the outcome of the game. Donovan never wants his 6-foot-7, 230-pound dirty-work specialist to feel unappreciated.

“Here’s a guy that doesn’t get a lot of headlines,” Donovan said. “But what he does impacts our team. We need more guys doing the things he’s doing.”

These days, clearly, more guys are.

When a team is as balanced as fourth-ranked UF (16-2, 6-0), which plays host Wednesday night to South Carolina (12-7, 2-4) at the O’Connell Center (8 p.m., SEC Network), a lot of unselfishness and sacrifice is going on. Yeguete deserves a big chunk of the credit for helping engender those traits with his infectious brand of intangible energy that may be difficult to quantify, but easy to identify.

Think of that when the Gators are scrapping with the Gamecocks on “Mohawk Night,” a salute of sorts to Yeguete, who has sported the look for the better part of two years (and brought classmate Scottie Wilbekin into the fold). The first 1,000 students in the O’Dome will get mock Mohawk toupees for their own dome to pay homage to UF’s favorite Frenchman.

“I can’t wait to see them,” Yeguete said. South Carolina is good opponent to market Yeguete’s “do,” given what he does.

The Gamecocks are a blue-collar bunch that will battle, especially on the glass, where they lead the Southeastern Conference in rebounding percentage. Yeguete figures to be right in the middle of the bouncing balls, but not exclusively in the paint. His ability to guard multiple positions on defense and use his long arms to anticipate and be active in the press make him a versatile luxury for Donovan and his staff.

“We all know how important he is to our team,” junior center Patric Young.

It would have been interesting to see what the Gators could have accomplished down the home stretch of the last year had Yeguete not suffered a season-ending broken foot in late-February. His defense, perhaps, could have made a difference in a three-point loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament semifinals or when Louisville went on its late-game run in the NCAA West Region final to beat Florida by four.

“That was tough not being able to be out there,” Yeguete said. “I think I could have helped the team.”

In a lot of little-but-large ways ... if that makes sense.

In 2011-12, Yeguete averaged 4.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. This season, his scoring is up to 6.5 points (on identical 58.1-percent shooting) and he leads the Gators in rebounding (6.7) and ranks second in steals (22).

Yeguete figured to play a more well-rounded role this season, especially early on when Scottie Wilbekin (suspension) and Casey Prather (concussion) were out of the lineup. He showed flashes of being more aggressive on offense, but into December his attack mode with the ball became counter-productive.

“I think he was getting too caught up in trying to score and might have lost sight of who he actually was,” Donovan said. “He’s never going to be a three-point bomb guy or an unbelievable post player. But he doesn’t have to be, either.”

In losses at Arizona and Kansas State, Yeguete was a combined 3-for-10 from the floor, grabbed just seven rebounds and two steals. He was getting the ball, maybe thinking too much, looking for paths to points. On that scoring end, Yeguete is far more effective when his innate abilities to be around the action allow offense to come to him.

“It was more of a mindset thing,” said Yeguete, who has battled chronic tendinitis this season that has sidelined him sporadically from practice and earlier this month limited his minutes in games. “I met with the coaches and decided I had to get back to being the kind of player I am. That helped me get back my focus. Now, I just have to keep it up. Be me.”

At his current pace, Yeguete will find himself in conversations for SEC Sixth Man of the Year. For the time being, he’ll settle for being the valuable sixth man on the SEC’s team of the year.

Or in the case of this UF team, invaluable.

“I always tell him he is such a critical commodity,” Donovan said. “Every coach -- high school, college, professionally -- loves what Will Yeguete brings to the table. Because he does so many things that guys don’t or won’t do, that make him all the more valuable. He has to hold on to that.”

Because everyone around him really appreciates it.


South Carolina at No. 4 Florida

Tip-off: Wednesday, 8 p.m. (O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.)

Records: Florida 16-2, 6-0 (SEC); South Carolina 12-7, 2-4 (SEC)

TV: SEC Network (w/Dave Neal and Barry Booker) (affiliates)

Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise)  Sirius 134/XM 199

Game notes: Florida notes; South Carolina notes

Need to know: The Gators have won eight straight and are off to just the third 6-0 start in Southeastern Conference play in school history. Included in that win streak is five straight road games, but now UF is home for four of its next six, all against SEC opponents. ... In their last outing, the Gators destroyed Mississippi State 82-47, holding a 10th opponent this season under 50 points and a sixth to 20 or less in the first half. ... Florida has won its six SEC games by an average margin of 26.5 points, with the closest a 17-point win at Georgia last Wednesday. That was one of two games this season Florida trailed at halftime. ... Since a horrific shooting slump in December when he made just 25.5 percent from the floor and 12.5 percent from the arc (4-for-32) over a five-game period, senior G Kenny Boynton (13.6 ppg) has made 50.6 percent of his shots and 45.4 percent of his 3s (25 of 55) over the last seven games, thanks to better shot selection. ... Senior F Erik Murphy (13.6 ppg) leads the SEC in 3-point shooting -- and it’s not even close. Murphy is making 47.4 percent of his treys. The next closest is 40.6. ... Junior center Patric Young (11.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) went 6-for-6 from the floor at Mississippi State and is now shooting 62.8 percent for the season, including 68.4 the last 12 games. ... Junior PG Scottie Wilbekin (9.1 ppg, 5.1 apg) was named SEC Player of the Week after averaging 15 points and six assists in two road wins. ... UF reserve F Casey Prather (sprained ankle) will miss his fifth straight game, but is expected to be available when the Gators host Ole Miss Saturday. ... The Gamecocks are coached by Frank Martin, the former Miami Senior High coach who is in his first year at USC after going 117-54 in five seasons at Kansas State. ... South Carolina’s two conference wins came against LSU and Arkansas. The Gamecocks losses were at Mississippi State and Missouri -- two teams the Gators beat by 30-plus -- and home against Auburn and Vanderbilt. ... USC is led by running back-turned point guard Bruce Ellington (10.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg), likely the fastest end-to-end player in the conference. If the Gamecocks are to challenge the Gators, they’ll need to do it in transition and on rebounding, where their 42.4 percent offensive rebounding ranks No. 3 in the nation. Trouble for USC, that number nearly mirrors its 42.8 percent field-goal defense, which ranks last in the conference.


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