Bench provides lift as Gators knock out FGCU

ARLINGTON, Texas — They don’t have a T-shirt with caricatures in their honor plastered across the front or even a nickname.
As a collective group, this trio is more substance than flash.
Reserves Will Yeguete, Michael Frazier and Casey Prather are critical to Florida’s success but they garnered little attention leading into Friday night’s showdown with Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet 16.
Dunk City owned the headlines.
That may be true, but the Gators’ bench helped slam the door in Cinderella’s face in Florida’s 62-50 win over the Eagles.
Prather scored 11 points, grabbed four rebounds and performed his own version of Dunk City with a breakaway slam in the first half. Yeguete, looking more like his self by the minute after a midseason knee injury, had two points, two blocks, four steals and four rebounds, while Frazier scored six points on back-to-back 3-pointers.
The trio played a pivotal role in a 16-0 Gators run that turned a 24-14 deficit into a 30-26 halftime lead, quieting the mostly pro-FGCU crowd of more than 40,000 at Cowboys Stadium.
“Casey had an unbelievable game,” Yeguete said. “Overall, I think we did a good job of staying in the game … they made a run and we needed a boost from the bench and we gave them that with some energy.”
The Gators needed everything the bench provided on the way to a school-record third consecutive trip to the Elite Eight. Florida faces Michigan on Sunday afternoon for a berth in the Final Four.
FGCU came out dunking, hitting 3-pointers and basically doing whatever it wanted early, jumping to a 15-4 lead to set off the upset alarm early with an 11-0 run.
The Gators needed a boost and Prather provided one with a rim-rattling dunk when Yeguete rebounded a miss by FGCU’s Sherwood Brown, found Prather in transition and watched as Prather did the rest.
The play seemed to wake up the Gators. Still, Florida trailed by 10 when Frazier nailed his first 3-pointer to trim the Eagles’ lead to 24-17. Next possession, Frazier drained another 3-pointer.
Prather followed with a layup and point guard Scottie Wilbekin tied the game 24-24 with a jumper. The Gators took their first lead (27-24) on Mike Rosario’s 3-pointer with 1:41 remaining before halftime.
The Gators stormed back using primarily a smaller lineup with the athletic Prather the catalyst.
“We basically get back into the game,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Casey getting a run-out dunk, Frazier knocks down a couple of 3s, we go on a mini run. It would have been hard to get back into the game in the first half if we allowed them to score.”
Prather offered a good reason as to why Florida’s bench played with such inspiration after watching FGCU control the game early.
“We wanted to come out and play with energy and help our team win,” he said. “I think we did a great job of doing it. We made up our mind that we didn’t want to leave.”
Instead, Florida’s bench paved the way for the Gators to continue a deeper into March Madness. The Gators’ bench outscored FGCU’s 19-12, including 13-7 in the momentum-swinging first half.
Frazier, in only his third NCAA tournament game, didn’t back off the pedal after missing his first 3-point attempt. He knew the Gators needed a lift or they could be going home earlier than planned.
“We need different people to step up on different nights,” Frazier said. “Anything we can use. It’s a one-game tournament. At a certain time, someone has to step up.”
All three of Florida’s reserves did Friday.