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Monday March 4, 2013Gators Eye the Outright SEC Prize

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- About three hours after they filed out of the O’Connell Center Saturday, the Florida Gators won a share of the Southeastern Conference championship, thanks to circumstance hundreds of miles away.

So, how did they celebrate?

“I didn’t,” junior center Patric Young said.

“Celebrate?” asked senior Erik Murphy. “We haven’t won anything yet.”

Good answers.

With their come-from-behind defeat of Alabama Saturday coupled with Arkansas defeating Kentucky, the Gators got a piece of just the sixth SEC title in school history. At worst, Florida will share the crown with the Crimson Tide or Wildcats or both.

That scenario, as far as the Gators are concerned, would be worse.

“We don’t want to share it,” senior guard Kenny Boynton said.

The Gators (23-5, 13-3) have been atop the SEC race since it began and want to be the only ones there when it ends. They can guarantee that by defeating Vanderbilt (13-15, 7-9) at home Wednesday night in the final home games for Boynton, Murphy and Mike Rosario, the team’s three seniors. 

As a charter member of the SEC, which dates to 1933, UF has never had players win two outright conference titles. Boynton and Murphy, who arrived at Florida on the heels of back-to-back NIT seasons, have helped move the program back to elite status and can be the first Gators with multiple league championships.

What a nice example that would set for Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather to go one better next year.

First things first, though. That would be beating the Commodores, a 3-point bombing bunch that will come into the O’Dome firing and fired up to play spoilers.

"We're playing for a lot on Wednesday,” Coach Billy Donovan said. “Winning a championship outright, I think, is always special. Certainly, they've got at least a piece of it right now. [But] I think playing better, that's what’s important right now. After this week is over with, we're in one-and-done situations the rest of the year.”

As in the SEC and NCAA tournaments.

The Gators did not play great against Alabama, falling behind by eight points midway through the second half, but dug deep, played hard and together with the game on the line, and staged their biggest rally of the season.

After taking Sunday off, the team returned to practice Monday and went searching for that connectedness that defined the Gators during the month of January -- on the way to 10 straight wins -- before the knee injury (and subsequent surgery) to junior forward Will Yeguete, the team’s best rebounder and an outstanding frontcourt defender, challenged its chemistry.

Yeguete returned Saturday after missing seven games. So did freshman guard Michael Frazier after missing one with a concussion. Neither player looked sharp against Alabama, but four practices -- one Monday, two Tuesday, plus a shoot-around Wednesday -- in advance of facing Vandy should kick some of the rust off.

“Our team is not full strength and we’re not where we were [earlier in the season],” Donovan said Monday, adding that he’s had to juggle and tweak the lineup practically every other week due to injuries. “If [all] these [other] players, knock on wood, can stay healthy, we’ve got to incorporate these guys that we haven’t had for a long period of time and get them cohesively playing together.”

Preferably, in time to win a championship -- outright, that is -- and then get ready to chase some other ones.

“For us right now, it’s a matter of putting what we’ve done behind us; whatever is in front of us is what we’re trying to get,” Boynton said. “We want to improve our situation and beating Vanderbilt does that. Then we go to Kentucky and try to improve our situation, then on to the tournament. It’s about being focused on what’s ahead and moving forward.”

 

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