Florida-Mississippi State, replacing Yeguete

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.”

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Gators more mature; Prather working way back

No. 7/8 FLORIDA GATORS MISS. STATE BULLDOGS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Rick Ray
Record: 15-2 (5-0 SEC) Record: 7-10 (2-3 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Location: Humphrey Coliseum – Starkville, MS [Capacity: 10,575]
Time: 8:00 p.m. EST

TV: ESPN2/ESPN2HD (Dave Lamont, Kara Lawson)
SiriusXM: 123/199 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter and SportsYapper app

Odds: Florida -20.5 | O/U 123.5

NOT LAST YEAR’S TEAM

Behind most of the first half on Wednesday in Athens, GA, Florida fought back to trail by just three at the break before doubling up Georgia 40-20 in the second half and cruising to a 64-47 victory. During a media availability on Thursday, Donovan noted that the team is much more mature this season and the 2011-12 Gators likely would have dropped Wednesday’s contest.

“With a group of guys you’re always looking for improvement. You’re looking for improvement not only on a daily basis but even maybe from one year to the next,” he said. “We were in a similar situation last year against Georgia where we beat them pretty handily at home and then we go on the road to their place and we don’t get off to a great start and we don’t play well the entire game and we end up losing by double figures.”

“The positive was – from a year ago to now – I’m not so sure last year’s team wins the game they won [on Wednesday]. I see some growth in that area where things were not going well. I knew Georgia was going to come out [strong]. … We knew that they were going to do that. … I thought our guys were pretty resilient and they battled through and played a much, much better second half. I thought that was encouraging to me.”

STILL WORKING HIS WAY BACK

No one on Florida’s roster has had a more frustrating season than junior forward Casey Prather. After missing the first four games of the season due to concussions he suffered in practice and eventually working his way back into the lineup, he played quite well and proved that he is an essential reserve for the Gators.

Playing in his 10th game of the season on Jan. 12, Prather suffered what has been deemed a high-ankle sprain and has missed the last three games. He is also expected to sit out Saturday’s contest but may be in line to return before Florida’s next big game against Ole Miss on Feb. 2 as his recovery is “going well,” according to Donovan.

“Our trainer just feels like the high-ankle sprain is a different kind of injury. It’s a slower-healing injury,” he said Thursday. “Through past experiences [with players], our trainer has learned a lot about the injury. They’ve been diagnosed of late a lot differently in terms of treatment and putting guys back out there.

“The first week what we wanted to do was to really just let him stay in a boot and no movement, no walking, no nothing. … This kind of injury, the more you do, the more it causes problems. Right now, we gave him a week. He’s out of the boot now and he’s walking around. He’s doing some rehab. He still has some discomfort when he’s tried to run. We’ll then probably reevaluate him after this weekend.

“My feeling would be that it would not be until the end of next week; that would probably be a point that we’d expect him back. We don’t feel like it’s a severe high-ankle sprain, but it’s enough where if he comes back too early or too soon, this is something that is going to linger. With this injury, we don’t want that to happen, so we’re probably cautioning on the more conservative side in terms of pushing him back into getting to practice and those things.”

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