Will Yeguete turns in headline-worthy performance as Gators move on

ORLANDO, Fla. — The way Will Yeguete plays has fallen under many descriptions in his four seasons at UF.

He’s been called a role player, a glue guy, a grinder, blue collar, a fan favorite, coachable, and the list goes on.

Gators coach Billy Donovan knows what Yeguete is not.

"He’s not a headline guy."

Donovan said that of Yeguete on Saturday after the No. 1-ranked Gators advanced to a fourth consecutive Sweet 16 with a 61-45 win over Pittsburgh. Asked about Yeguete’s importance to this team, Donovan talked a lot about the senior forward.

He only needed four words in reality.

"He really impacts winning," Donovan said.

Yeguete’s contributions were evident here at Amway Arena in front of a sold-out crowd Saturday. Yeguete played stellar defense, scored eight points, hit 4 of 5 shots, grabbed four rebounds and added a block, steal and assist.

The assist came on a behind-the-back pass after Yeguete stole the ball from Pittsburgh’s Lamar Patterson, and softly tossed it around his back to a trailing Casey Prather. From there Prather did the rest with a breakaway dunk that brought the crowd to its feet.

"That was nice," teammate Michael Frazier II said.

Quick Hits

"I knew Casey was there," Yeguete added. "I felt Casey following the play so I saw the ball bouncing kind of slow. I just reached out and around the back and Casey finished it."

Prather’s dunk gave Florida a 10-point lead with 12:33 left and highlighted a solid all-around game by Yeguete, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound product of Bordeaux, France.

Yeguete seemed to be in the right place at the right time several times against the Panthers.

He showed up for work expecting a gritty game against Pittsburgh, a physical team that features the front line of Patterson, Michael Young and Talib Zanna.

"I was trying to be aggressive from the get-go," Yeguete said. "I was just ready to battle. I knew they were going to be physical inside and try to outrebound us. I think the whole team had that mindset."

Yeguete’s eight points were the most he’s scored since a home win over Alabama on Feb. 8. He helped the Gators to a 36-24 advantage in points in the paint.

But Yeguete is at his best when he is disruptive on defense, hitting the floor for loose balls, and to put it plainly: a pain in the butt for opponents.

"He’s invaluable. You can’t put a price tag on how important this guy is to our team," teammate Patric Young said. "We’re not the same team without him because of the way he can defend, the way he can rebound, the things he does that sometimes goes very unnoticed.

Florida vs. Pittsburgh

"He is a great on-ball defender, one through five. You don’t have many guys like that."

Donovan wants Yeguete to play like he did Saturday the rest of the NCAA Tournament. That’s the Yeguete that is a fan favorite at the O’Connell Center.

Donovan challenged Yeguete to stay focused and in the moment heading into the game.

"Will got back to being who he was for most of the game," Donovan said. "He’s such a great cover guy with our defense. He’s a great help defender. He’s the epitome of a guy that when you down at the stat sheet it’s hard to have a level of appreciation for him."

Perhaps most important is that Yeguete is healthy come March Madness. In Florida’s run of four consecutive Sweet 16 berths, Yeguete was a little-used reserve as a freshman, hurt as a sophomore and recovering from an injury as a junior.

This trip to the NCAA Tournament is one he wants to cherish.

"I’ve been through a lot," he said. "I love playing with these guys."

A sophomore, Frazier appreciates the unselfish approach Yeguete brings to the court each day. He’s not a headline guy, but he helps the Gators make them.

"He’s a warrior," Frazier said. "He’s been through a lot but it just shows a lot to his character that he doesn’t stay down. That’s how he plays."

Young knows Yeguete better than anyone on the team. They are roommates and great friends off the court, often attending other UF sporting events to support their fellow student-athletes.

It was Yeguete’s turn to be cheered Saturday. Young was asked if that was Yeguete at his best.

He hopes not.

"I think the best is yet to come," Young responded. "I think he’s definitely improved because Coach got on him these last few games. He’s starting to see what he needs to do better.

"I think there is still a better Will Yeguete to come."

The Gators will welcome him with open arms.