Florida is expected to have a full set of players this weekend but doesn’t know how much its newly healthy ones will contribute in the drive toward an SEC title.
With Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II cleared to return, the eighth-ranked Gators will try to maintain sole possession of the conference lead by knocking off visiting Alabama on Saturday.
Florida (22-5, 12-3) had all of its players practicing Thursday for the first time since Oct. 12, with Yeguete and Frazier back on the court.
Yeguete, averaging 6.0 points and 6.3 rebounds, was initially expected to miss the rest of the regular season after undergoing knee surgery Feb. 8, but has recovered faster than expected. Frazier, a freshman averaging 6.4 points, sat out Tuesday’s 64-58 loss at Tennessee because of a concussion.
Without them, Billy Donovan essentially went with a six-man rotation and, not surprisingly, the Gators seemed to wear down in the second half. Casey Prather appeared to suffer a concussion late in that game but has passed baseline tests.
Although Yeguete and Frazier are cleared, there’s no guarantee they’ll see the court, and Donovan doesn’t want his team thinking it can simply rely on their presence.
“They’ve got understand that they’ve got to step up and they’ve got to play and they cannot take the approach of, ‘Well, we’re a little bit deeper. We have more guys available,'” he said. “Because I just don’t know if Frazier and/or Yeguete are going to be really able to provide some significant minutes for us.”
While a second SEC regular-season title in three years is within reach, Donovan admitted his biggest priority is getting his team healthy in time for the postseason.
The Gators hold a one-game lead over Alabama (19-9, 11-4) and Kentucky with three to play. Florida will get to play its next two games at home, where it’s 13-0 and has won its seven league games by an average of 25.2 points, before ending the regular season at Kentucky next Saturday. A win and a Wildcats loss at Arkansas on Saturday would give the Gators a share of that crown.
Florida will first try to extend its five-game win streak over the Crimson Tide in their first meeting of the season. The Gators have won the last eight in Gainesville by an average of 17.4 points.
The Tide, losers of 10 straight to ranked foes, have also dropped 13 consecutive road games against Top 25 teams since a 77-73 victory over No. 4 Mississippi State in 2004.
After its four-game win streak was snapped with a 97-94 triple-overtime loss at LSU last Saturday, Alabama bounced back Tuesday for a 61-43 rout of Auburn with leading scorer Trevor Releford providing 21 points. Releford, averaging 15.6 points, scored a career-high 36 against LSU.
The Tide went 6-2 in February despite shooting 39.4, and getting their offense on track against Florida seems like a tall order.
The Gators are third in the nation in scoring defense at 53.5 points per game, and are limiting opponents to 36.0 percent shooting in Gainesville.