Gators Focused on Auburn

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The first of Florida basketball's two NCAA Championship runs began by winning the SEC Tournament in this city four years ago. Things are different now. The building they're playing in is on its second name since then, and rather than playing for NCAA seeding the Gators are just trying to make sure they're in the field at all.

Auburn, the team that beat Florida in this event and ended their hopes of a return to the big stage last season, is the first obstacle in UF's path. They'll match up Thursday beginning at 7:30 Eastern.

Florida defeated Auburn 78-70 in Gainesville three weeks ago, but no one on the Gator roster is presuming a first game victory.

"Without getting past Auburn, we don't play anybody else," said sophomore guard Erving Walker. "We're just ready for Auburn."

Junior forward Chandler Parsons agrees that the team's focus is completely on the Tigers.

"Whoever's up next, right now that's the biggest game on our schedule."

One point of emphasis for Florida will be getting out to a quicker start after struggling early in their three most recent outings. According to Walker the goal is to "come out aggressive, play our game from the beginning and hopefully get a lead."

Billy Donovan seems to feel good about where his team is mentally heading into the tournament, calling them "excited to play". While Donovan was asked for his thoughts on UF's potential NCAA status, he downplayed any speculation about it. Donovan pointed out that Auburn and Kentucky are the only SEC teams to have the lead in every conference game this season, which indicates the Tigers have consistently been very competitive even though their record isn't spectacular.

Auburn coach Jeff Lebo expressed concerns about Florida's balance on offense, noting that all five starters have shown they're capable of double figure scoring. Lebo is the one coach in the SEC perceived as being on the hot seat, but he insists the ongoing speculation about his job security won't affect his team in the tournament.

"I'm focused on this team, focused on the tournament, focused on Florida."

In their earlier win against Auburn, the Gators did a lot of damage from the foul line, shooting 40 free throws for the game. Trying to reduce the fouling on defense is one thing Auburn's Frankie Sullivan says will be a key to the game.

"I hack a lot, so I'm trying to keep my hands to myself and help the team out," said Sullivan. "Coach tells us the team that shoots the most free throws or gets the most possessions is the team that usually wins the game."

Should Florida be victorious against Auburn, they would play Mississippi State at 7:30 Friday, with most observers believing a win there would secure the Gators their first NCAA bid in three years.

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