Gators advance to semifinals

Florida head coach Billy Donovan challenged his team to respond. They closed the Southeastern Conference regular season with a loss at Kentucky, and Donovan wanted his team to get back to the level of play it was at early in conference play. Friday afternoon was a positive step in that direction. No. 13 Florida secured a blowout 80-58 win over LSU to advance to the tournament semifinals.

"Coach has been on us about that, so obviously you want to come out and play with a lot of energy," Erik Murphy said on the postgame television broadcast. "He has been on us all week to play aggressive and smart. I think we did a good job of that today."

The challenge was laid out this week in practice. Donovan knew it was the first extended period of practice for the Gators with the entire team healthy. He saw sloppiness and lack of focus in the previous weeks before the postseason. The goal was to get the team back to their January-level of production.

So he made practice miserable.

He forced the team to focus on the task. The coaches covered the baskets in practice and forced the Gators to work on rebounding and loose balls.

"I can't lie -- it was really difficult practices," Patric Young said. "Coach challenged us. We left everything we had in those practices, and it really got us focused on what it takes to win."

It carried into the game on Friday afternoon.

"For the first time in a long time, we've got our full compliment of players back healthy," Billy Donovan said. "That time from Sunday to Thursday served our team well."

The Florida offense took a big step forward, totaling 17 assists and showcasing a better offensive flow than in recent games. Seven of those came from senior guard Kenny Boynton, who scored just two points on 1-for-7 shooting from the field and one turnover.

"There are other ways they can contribute to the team if they're not scoring," Donovan said. "Kenny took that to heart today."

Murphy did plenty of scoring on his own. The senior forward posted 27 points and pulled down 12 rebounds while shooting 11-for-15 from the field and 5-for-7 from behind the three-point line. Murphy's 27 points were tied for the third most in school history in an SEC tournament game.

Murphy tweaked his knee during practice on Wednesday but went through normal precautions. He didn't practice late in the week and Donovan said the trainers were concerned after Murphy came out of non-contact drills with a sharp pain in his knee.

The MRI came back negative and the knee didn't swell, but there was legitimate concern on the Florida staff about the injury. The senior wore a wrap on his knee during the game and put together a career effort.

"His threes were more guys finding him," Donovan said. "We tried to do things in both halves to get him to catch the ball closer to the basket."

The teams played close through the first 11 minutes of the game. The Gators then closed the half on a 25-11 run to take a 43-28 lead into the locker room, capped with a three-pointer from Michael Frazier as the buzzer sounded in the first half.

"Anytime you can make a shot at the end of the half, either way, it gives you momentum going in," Donovan said. "There was definitely a momentum change there."

The offense was balanced. Donovan wanted his team to make an effort to get the ball in the paint early, with the first eight points of the game for Florida coming in the paint. After that, the Gators got hot and went 11-for-20 from behind the three-point line to take control of the game.

Florida didn't allow any doubt in the second half. The Gators opened the second half on a 17-6 run in the first 7:31 of play, with nine of those points coming on three-pointers.

The Gators are now in the SEC Tournament semifinals for the 17th time in program history and will fight for the program's eighth berth in the SEC Tournament finals. Florida will face Alabama and will start at 1 p.m. on Saturday.


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