No. 2 Florida wants to prove maturity

The Gators say they've learned their lesson, and they have a chance to prove it on Saturday. No. 2 Florida went to Fayetteville on Tuesday and gave up a season-high 80 points while dropping its first conference game of the season. Head coach Billy Donovan was upset with their lack of focus, and while the team says they won't take anyone else lightly, they can prove it in the O'Connell Center.

There's no better team to prove it against than Mississippi State, who comes to Gainesville for Saturday's game at 5 p.m.

Florida is two weeks past pounding the Bulldogs by 35 points in Starkville, and Mississippi State currently sits at the bottom of the conference standings with a 2-7 record. If there were any game to overlook, this would be the one.

But the Gators saw what happens when they do that by taking an 11-point beating at the hands of Arkansas on Tuesday.

"They're a college team that's capable of beating us," Florida freshman guard Michael Frazier said on Thursday. "We have to approach them how we would approach any other team, with a good amount of respect. We've got to go into that game ready and mentally prepared."

The scene in the locker room after the loss at Arkansas was still fresh on the minds of Florida players days later. There was frustration and even embarrassment. The Gators had just received the No. 2 ranking, the program's highest since the national championship team during the 2006-07 season. And they threw it away.

Upperclassmen, namely Erik Murphy, told the team to keep its heads up and learn from the loss, but there was still frustration lingering. The players were getting over it and turning their focus to Mississippi State.

"It's over," Frazier said. "We can't live in the past."

The Gators continued to be focused through their first eight games of the conference schedule. Opponent didn't matte — their consistent focus earned blowout wins in the first eight SEC games, with the closest being a 14-point win over Ole Miss last Saturday.

As much as they said the right thing about remaining humble and focused, there was still part of the team that wasn't. It was tough to avoid the positive press, some national publications even calling Florida the best team in the country. That penetrated the players' minds and made them believe they didn't have to work as hard.

They saw on Tuesday how wrong that mindset could be.

"Being the No. 2 team in the country, a lot of teams are looking at you as a target when you're that good of a team," senior guard Mike Rosario said. "We've got to go into every game with the urgency that we have a target on us and it's us against the world. If we have that as a team, we'll be in good shape."

Rosario has a chance to lead

There's a new challenge to work with now. It's not just about bouncing back from Tuesday's disappointing performance. Florida now has to find a way to play junior forward Will Yeguete for the rest of the regular season. The junior had successful knee surgery on Friday morning to repair loose bodies floating around that were causing tendinitis.

It leaves the Gators thin in the frontcourt. Behind starters Erik Murphy and Patric Young, 6-6 small forward Casey Prather is the next biggest player the Gators can use in the paint.

"I think we are a little bit of a different team just because of Prather and Will's situation," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "Our starting five that has started for a while is still intact. Those groups of guys that have started games are still there. Where our team looks a little bit different is an unhealthy Prather, (DeVon) Walker hasn't played a lot and obviously Frazier is kind of in the same role."


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