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Friday February 8, 2013Gators Look to Rebound - and Remake Themselves Too - as Mississippi State Comes to the O'Dome

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After a brief warm-up Thursday, the Florida Gators collectively exited the practice court to meet in their mini-auditorium and review tape of Tuesday night’s humbling, stumbling (at times even bumbling) loss at Arkansas.

Coach Billy Donovan excused himself to the session like so:

“It’s bloodbath time.”

Donovan, for sure, let his players have it, be it over simple blown fundamentals, transition defense, fighting through screens or just plain effort.

Then it was back to the court to try and make things right.

Try to remake things, too.

“This could be an interesting next few weeks,” said Donovan, who figures to do an awful lot of teaching in addition to coaching the rest of this month. “We’re going to have to do some different stuff now.”

Donovan often talks about how “fragile it all is” when it comes to a basketball team and its season. In the case of these Gators, there can be no better example of that fragility than the loss of junior forward Will Yeguete to a knee injury and its ripple effects through the UF rotation.

Life after Yeguete continues Saturday at 5 p.m., when No. 2 (for-now) UF (18-3, 8-1) hosts Mississippi State (7-14, 2-7) at the O’Connell Center, with the Gators looking to hold their-one game on Kentucky and Ole Miss in the Southeastern Conference standings.

He’s only one man, but Yeguete did the job of several. Florida’s struggles after he limped off the court Tuesday sounded the alarm in the form of out-of-sync offensive sets, lost shooters on defense, getting beat to loose balls and -- with center Patric Young in foul trouble -- an obvious lack of depth under the basket.

Yeguete, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Friday morning and will be sidelined four to six weeks, was averaging only six points and six rebounds per game. That may not sound very crippling until considering Yeguete is the top backup at all three front-court positions, the team’s best post defender, key man at the top of the press and an extreme hustle and intangibles player.

“He’s one of our dirty guys,” senior guard Mike Rosario said. “That’s what we call him.”

And it’s a compliment.

Now, the question becomes which Gator called upon is going to best complement this team.

• Will it be junior forward Casey Prather? He was pressed into extended duty against the Razorbacks and showed the rust and after-effects of a high ankle sprain that cost him four games last month.
• Will it be freshman guard Michael Frazier? He may be the best pure shooter (46 percent from 3-point range) on the team, but at 6-foot-4 he’s out of position at the forward spot. Not that that matters. The Gators are down in numbers, so Frazier playing both the small forward and, yes, even the power forward spots have to be options. To Frazier’s credit, he banged for a career-high nine rebounds against the Razorbacks and still went 3-for-4 from the arc.
• Or will it be freshman swingman DeVon Walker, who realistically is not ready to play critical minutes, but now has to. Walker is 6-6, but just over 191 pounds, so he’ll give away 40 or 50 pounds in the post at times. He’s tough, competitive and won’t back down, but he’ll have limitations in what figures to be limited duty.

“We’re going to have to move around some pieces here,” said Donovan, who figures to play significant stretches of games with four guards on the floor. “I know there will be comparisons to last year, but this is really a completely different situation.”

The Gators lost Yeguete to broken foot in late-February of the 2011-12 season and had a tough time seeking the right combination at first, losing four of the next five games -- and that was with a much deeper team. Then-freshman swingman Bradley Beal assumed a larger rebounding role and provided minutes at both the “3” and “4” positions.

Beal, of course, was the third pick in the NBA draft last June.

Note: Neither Prather, Frazier nor Walker are on any NBA scouting boards right now.

“I’m willing to do whatever the coaches need me to do to help the team,” Frazier said.

Like his classmate, Walker didn’t come to Florida to play power forward.

“But that’s where they need me,” Walker said. “I can’t be Will, so all I can do is stick to the principles the coaches have taught me and try to best replicate what he does. It’s basketball. Things happen. Adjustments have to be made.”

Mississippi State at No. 2 Florida
Tip-off: Saturday, 5 p.m. (O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.)
Records: Florida 18-3, 8-1 (SEC); Mississippi State 7-14, 2-7 (SEC)
TV: FSN/Sun Sports (w/Dave Neal and Larry Conley)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199
Game notes: Florida notes; Mississippi State notes

Need to know: After ascending to the nation’s No. 2 ranking with 10 straight victories, the Gators were pummeled Tuesday night at Arkansas 80-69 and now look to get back on track in the Southeastern Conference, where they lead Kentucky and Ole Miss by just one game in the league’s regular-season race. ... Mississippi State is at the bottom of the SEC standings, having lost seven straight, including a 35-point drubbing at Starkville courtesy of the Gators just two weeks ago. ... Florida is 10-0 at home this season. ... Despite UF’s poor outing at Arkansas, the team still leads the conference in eight major categories, including scoring margin (plus-21), field-goal percentage (49.2) and 3-pointers per game (8.8) -- Mississippi State is last in all three -- plus scoring defense (52.4 ppg). ... The Gators will be minus the services of junior F Will Yeguete for the next month. Yeguete underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Friday and is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks, leaving the likes of junior Casey Prather and freshmen Michael Frazier and DeVon Walker to help fill in up front. ... Senior G Kenny Boynton (13.2 ppg) leads four Florida starters in double-figure scoring and has hit a 3-point shot in 15 straight games. If he makes one against the Bulldogs, he’ll tie teammate and senior F Erik Murphy (12.7 ppg, 4.7) and former Gators Greg Stolt for the 10th-longest streak in school history. ... Murphy leads the SEC in 3-point shooting at 48.9 percent. ... Junior center Patric Young (11 ppg, 6.6 rpg) needs one blocked shot to become the 10th player in UF history to block 100 during his career. Of his 99 blocks, 38 have come this season. ... The Bulldogs, whose last two defeats were in overtime (against Texas A&M) and on a buzzer-beater (by LSU), have no starters averaging in double-figures, but freshman G Fred Thomas comes off the bench to score 10.3 points per game. The starting backcourt tandem of Jalen Steele (9.3 ppg) and Craig Sword (9.9 ppg) is solid.


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