|No. 2/2 FLORIDA GATORS||MISS. STATE BULLDOGS|
|Head Coach: Billy Donovan||Head Coach: Rick Ray|
|Record: 18-3 (8-1 SEC)||Record: 7-14 (2-7 SEC)|
|Conference: Southeastern||Conference: Southeastern|
Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 11,548]
Time: 5:00 p.m. EST
TV: Sun Sports/Fox Sports Network (Dave Neal, Larry Conley) [Channel Finder]
SiriusXM: 93/199 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: ESPN3.com [Blackout Map] | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter and SportsYapper app
Odds: Florida -26.5 | O/U 128
REPLACING THE IRREPLACEABLE
For the second-straight year, one of Florida’s most important players is having his season cut due to injury. Junior forward Will Yeguete, who broke his foot toward the end of the 2012 regular season and never returned, had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Friday and is out for at least the rest of the regular season.
Yegeute’s loss hits the Gators hard, but Donovan is more focused on how to attempt to replace some of his production rather than worry about all of the negatives. Junior forward Casey Prather and freshman guard Michael Frazier will undoubtedly see more time on the court, but freshman G/F DeVon Walker – who has already spent time working in the post during practice due to the team’s thin frontcourt – will also be in the mix to fill in off the bench. The problem? Donovan is not necessarily sure that he’s prepared to contribute on an every-game basis.
“I don’t know if he’s ready. We don’t have a whole lot of choices right now,” he said Thursday. “I would say this about DeVon Walker, which I like, is he’s highly competitive. He’s a tough kid. I think he’ll step in there and give us everything he has. That’s a comforting [thing]. I think at this point of time in the season, you need someone to come in that has energy, has toughness.
“Is he going to be in the right spot all the time? Probably not. Is he going to make some mistakes? Absolutely. Has he absorbed enough minutes to have any level of experience to probably handle that? Probably not. But I think for him, I do have confidence in his competitiveness and his willingness to do whatever is necessary to help our team. I feel good about that, but he obviously has a long way to go to continue to improve and get better. We’ll see what he does when he gets out there.”
HOPING TO BOUNCE BACK IN A BIG WAY
Yeguete is not the only thing the Gators lost on Tuesday as Florida also ended its 10-game winning streak at the hands of an Arkansas team it likely would have beaten nine times out of 10. Donovan said, like any team would be, the Gators “were disappointed and down after the game” but he did not see such a lackluster performance coming with the way the team practiced heading into the contest.
“Our guys had two good days leading up to practice. There wasn’t anything I saw where I said, ‘Boy, there’s a red flag here,’” Donovan said. “We did not…Arkansas shot the ball extremely well to start the game to their credit. There were some things we could have done a better job of in the game to maybe offset some of that. Carefree, nonchalant, whatever the word is.
“It goes back to what I’ve always said. Everybody talks about where we’re ranked and what our defensive numbers are. It doesn’t mean anything; it really doesn’t. We didn’t look like a very good defensive team on Tuesday. I never, ever really buy into any of that stuff. It’s really how do you play in that game? And right now, as of [Thursday], we’re a really bad defensive team right now because that’s our last game. We’re a bad defensive team, and we’ve got to try to get better. That’s been my whole message all along from day one. Can we continue to get better, deal with the distractions that are all around you? It really doesn’t make a difference. What do you do with the next thing that sin front of you. And the next challenge that was in front of us was Arkansas, and we did not handle that well for whatever reason.”
Florida will undoubtedly lose its No. 2 ranking when the new polls are released on Monday, but a big win against a Mississippi State team that it has already defeated this season by 35 points would help salvage an otherwise down week for the Gators.