Gators can clinch SEC title on Wednesday

The Gators head into the final week of regular season play with a chance to secure the Southeastern Conference regular season title with a win over Vanderbilt or Kentucky. It's a goal Florida talked about accomplishing on its first day of practice, and now the chance to make it happen comes on Wednesday at 8 p.m. when the Commodores come to Gainesville.

"We're playing for a lot here on Wednesday," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "Winning a championship outright is always special. (We've) got at least a piece of it right now."

But that wasn't the goal. As soon as Florida's win over Alabama came to a close on Saturday afternoon, the Gators put themselves in the driver's seat to win the conference. When Kentucky lost at Arkansas, the path suddenly became as easy as winning one of the final two games.

And the Gators wouldn't want it any other way. Senior guard Kenny Boynton, who could join Erik Murphy as the only two seniors to leave with two SEC titles, reminisced after Saturday's game about the first preseason practice. The coaches and players sat around and talked about their goals for the season. Boynton wouldn't say what the other ones were, but right near the top was the SEC regular season title.

The long conference schedule is now coming to a close, and the path to reaching that goal couldn't be more straightforward.

Just win.

"To be in this position we are shows what kind of team we are," Murphy said. "We come together when we need to. I think now that everyone is back healthy it will be more special just because everybody is contributing and out there together. It will be something really special."

That's what sticks out to the Florida players and coaches. They've been through a lot this season to get to this point. With only four games of the eight-man rotation healthy and available, it's a credit to the job Donovan has done and that the players have bought in.

With Michael Frazier (concussion) and Will Yeguete (knee) healthy and available, the goal is now to get them back in a rhythm on the court. Frazier played six minutes on Saturday while Yeguete played 11 and had just one rebound, and Donovan was quick to acknowledge that it'll be a process before they're back to where they were before the injury.

Wednesday night is the next step in that process.

"If these players, knock on wood, can all stay healthy, we've got to now incorporate all these guys that we haven't had for a long period of time and get them cohesively playing together," Donovan said. "So the game is important because it's our next one, it's for an outright championship and it's also part of us. We need to be playing better than what we played for the first 28 minutes against Alabama."

It looks like the perfect matchup on paper. The Commodores come into Wednesday with a 13-15 record and 7-9 in conference play. They're led by sophomore guard Kedren Johnson, who is averaging 13.6 points with junior forward Rod Odom adding 10.2 points and 4.2 rebounds.

Freshman guard Kevin Bright is averaging seven points and a team-high 5.6 rebounds.

The young Commodores have gone through an inconsistent season, but Donovan always has respect for Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings.

"I've always enjoyed watching his teams play, particularly on the offensive end of the floor," Donovan said. "Anytime you play a team that takes over 40 percent of their shots from behind the 3-point line, it's dangerous. They put you in a lot of binds.

"The only team I could probably liken them to, and we had a difficult time with, was Air Force. The floor is going to be spaced and they are really, really going to utilize the three-point line. So we're going to have to do a really good job there. They are really sound on the defensive end, they guard really well. This is a great challenge for us on both ends of the floor to be able to get good shots, to work together and then to be able to able to try and eliminate three-point shots."


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