Gators aiming to win SEC Tournament

With Florida riding a 23-game wining streak heading into its trip to the Southeastern Conference Tournament, there are opinions from national media and some fans that the Gators need to lose a game before the NCAA Tournament begins next weekend. The Florida players think the exact opposite. The seniors want to win the tournament for the first time since they arrived in Gainesville.

The Florida program hasn't won the tournament since 2007, the final year of three-straight tournament championships.

The argument goes both ways. Teams heading into the NCAA Tournament with long winning streaks don't usually end the tournament by cutting down the nets. There's also the wear and tear that can be put on a player's body from playing three straight games, which the Gators would have to do to win the tournament this weekend in Atlanta.

There are two bigger examples in the history of Florida basketball that show winning the tournament isn't a big deal. The back-to-back national championship teams won the 2006 and 2007 SEC Tournaments before running through the NCAA Tournament to championships.

Florida's road to a tournament title begins on Friday at 1 p.m. against Missouri.

"It's really important for us to focus on the moment and getting better every single day as we've been doing all year, and not let the moment the be bigger than what we're trying to accomplish," Patric Young said.

The Florida coaching staff has been handling the weekend like any other. There's no extra pressure because of the tournament and no less pressure because of the situation Florida has put itself in with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament likely coming its way when the field is announced on Sunday.

"It's the next step in our season right now," Billy Donovan said. "The regular season is over with. Everybody in the league starts out and it's 0-0. It's kind of a new season so to speak over a five-day event."

The situation also provided Donovan an opportunity to point out an issue that could impact Florida. If the Gators play in the championship game on Sunday, it would be three straight days of games. Florida will almost certainly begin the NCAA Tournament in Orlando, a host site that begins its games on Thursday.

Donovan believes the NCAA should take into account how far a team goes into its conference tournament and when the tournament ends when deciding what day the team will open the NCAA Tournament.

That argument brought the question to Donovan about winning the SEC Tournament and if it's a priority, considering the Gators will likely open the NCAA Tournament in Orlando on Thursday.

"Of course we do," Donovan said. "We'll have to go out there and play regardless. That was just something I say we need to look at. But I think our guys will be excited about playing. Regardless where it is, we'll have time to get prepared and ready to play. So if we're playing in Orlando, that's great. But our goal right now would be to try to put three games together and play in a championship game on Sunday."

The Gators will open the SEC Tournament on Friday at 1 p.m. against Missouri. The Tigers were pushed by Texas A&M but ultimately won the game in double overtime. Missouri actually led against the Gators in Gainesville during February, but Florida used a strong second half to pull away.

The challenge for Florida comes against a three-headed backcourt that can score on anyone. Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross have big, physical guards that can score in multiple ways.

"Those three guys are as good of scorers as there is," Donovan said. "Defensively, they play some matchup zone, they play some man."

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