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Gators look to bounce back

Florida Today
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 08:54 PM
GAINESVILLE -

This is why college coaches with more than five minutes of experience don't get caught up talking about rankings in January or the NCAA tournament in February.

Just a few days ago, Florida (18-3 overall, 8-1 SEC) was riding a 10-game winning streak and a new position at No. 2 in the polls. A little over 24 hours later, Florida was blown out 80-69 by Arkansas and standout defender Will Yeguete was done for the regular season with a knee injury.

The Gators face Mississippi State (7-14, 2-7) at 5 p.m. today in a game that would have left onlookers yawning just a few days ago. But now Florida is pondering how to replace Yeguete, the poor defense it played in Fayetteville and a pending matchup with Kentucky at home on Tuesday that has become an almost must-win if the Gators hope to win the SEC.

UF travels to Kentucky for the regular-season finale on March 9. The defending national champions just perked up, thanks to the Razorbacks.

"It put us in our place, you know," freshman guard Michael Frazier, a former Plant High standout, said of the loss. "We've got to watch film and just see what we can do to do better. You've got to give credit to Arkansas. They played hard. We know there's definitely some things we can get better at."

Florida allowed the Razorbacks to shoot almost 50 percent from the field, racing to a 43-26 halftime lead. The Gators turned the ball over 16 times, gave Arkansas numerous second-chance opportunities and looked tired and overwhelmed. The Hogs never trailed, made seven of their first nine 3-point attempts to lead 36-13 at one point.

Can you say ... hello, reality?

"We had a lot of success and we just have to be able to handle success better than we did. Hopefully we'll learn from this and move forward," Frazier said. "Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has their bumps so we've just got to continue to get better, watch film and move forward."

Ironic that the freshman sounds more like how the seniors should. It's a veteran team, with seniors Mike Rosario, Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy and juniors Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young making up the starting lineup. But where was the leadership in a time of need?

"I look at it as it's a reality check," Rosario said. "Going into every game we have to be perfect. That's one thing that you want to be, especially being the No. 2 team in the country and a lot of teams basically looking at you as a target. We've just got to go into every game with an urgency, that we have a target on us and it's us-against-the-world type attitude. I feel like if we have that as a team we'll be in good shape."

Another reality?

Goodbye, No. 2 ranking, as soon as the voters vote again. Instead, this is a team that suddenly has deep issues. How do the Gators overcome the loss of Yeugete? It means more minutes for Frazier, who will have to play some power forward and he's only 6-foot-4. It means Young and Murphy cannot afford to get into foul trouble — which Young is prone to do with early fouls killing him against Arkansas.

Florida beat Mississippi State 82-47 in Starkville on Jan. 26, and the Bulldogs have lost seven straight SEC games, and Fred Thomas (10.6) is the only player averaging in double figures. But the Gators don't have any right to take anyone lightly right now.

"They are a college team that is capable of beating us so we have to approach them just how we'll approach any other team, with a level of respect," Frazier said.

Murphy told the team afterward in the locker room, "It's over. The thing to do is learn from it and move forward; you can't live in the past."

That could have been the issue that doomed Florida in Fayetteville — living on its high ranking and big lead in the conference standings.

"We've still got room for improvement as a whole. The message that I gave my teammates (is) we've just got to move on to the next game and prepare for our next opponent, just come to practice and get better today," Rosario said. "That's our goal right now."

With Yeguete out for at least a month and forward Casey Prather still recovering from a high ankle sprain, coach Billy Donovan said there might be times he's forced to put four guards on the court at the same time.

"We're going to have to move around some different pieces here," Donovan said. "We're going to have to look at playing four guards, we're going to have to look at moving Frazier to a power forward spot some. We're going to have to look at different lineups with (little-used freshman DeVon) Walker on the court as well. So there are just different things we have to look at."

The loss of Yeguete also might jeopardize the Gators' hopes of a high seeding in the NCAA tournament.

"I never, ever buy into (rankings or statistics). It's really how do you play in that game and right now. As of today, we're a really bad defensive team. Right now," Donovan said. "So we've got to get better. That's been my message all along from day one is can we continue to get better, deal with the distractions that are all around you — people telling our guys we're a great defensive team. … It doesn't really make a difference. What matters is what you do with the next team in front of you. The next challenge was Arkansas and we did not handle that well, for whatever reason."

MISSISSIPPI ST. AT NO. 2 FLORIDA

Today: 5 p.m. TV: Sun Sports

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