Tournament Time for Gators

After losing two games last week to highly ranked teams the Florida Gators begin SEC Tournament play Thursday night in Nashville. The Gators (20-11, 9-7) will face the Auburn Tigers (15-16, 6-10) in a game you have to believe is a must win for NCAA Tournament consideration.

Florida was in a similar situation last year and lost to the Tigers 61-58 to send them to the NIT for the second year in a row.

The two teams met three weeks ago in the O'Connell Center with Florida posting a 78-70 win. Chandler Parsons led the way with 17 points and six rebounds while Erving Walker scored all 14 of his points at the free throw line. Auburn was hurt by early fouls on Lucas Hargrove (12.9/6.9) who ended up with just two points and four rebounds.

Of course the subplot, oh who am I kidding the MAIN plot to the SEC Tournament is for Florida to do what's needed to earn a return to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year hiatus. The Gators don't know if they need one, two or more wins to enter the field of 65. Donovan says making a deep tournament run is not something he wants on his players' minds.

"You can't get to Friday without Thursday. You can't get to Saturday without Friday. I really look at it this way; it's a one game tournament. That's all we need to focus on right now. Then, if you're fortunate enough to move on then you have to worry about the next game. You can look at the tournament for us as a four game tournament, but I don't think you can look at it that way. We need our best effort on Thursday against Auburn and then we have to regroup and come back the next day and deal with the challenge in front of us playing the next game against Mississippi State."

Auburn plays three or four guards most of the time and the majority of their shots seem to come from long range. Donovan says that's job one in preparing to defend the Tigers.

"The one thing for me is the amount of three point shots they take. They're really dangerous, and I think the three point line is a great equalizer. A perfect example if the first game where we had a nine or 11 point lead and we were doing a really good job on Tay Waller. Then he went a little bit crazy in the last five minutes of the game and he really got them back into it."

Donovan adds that the Gators got a good break in Gainesville when Auburn's best player got two early fouls and never got into the flow of the contest.

"Hargrove for them was one-for-three and didn't have one of his better offensive games. Reed really hurt us with 22 points and Waller didn't really get going until the second half."

While the Gators won the first go ‘round Donovan says he compares the Tigers to a recent Gator opponent against whom they didn't fare as well.

"They're a team like Georgia, to me that's really dangerous and really good. They've come into a situation at the end of some games where they haven't been able to get over the hump and have a better league record. When you see a team 6-10 in our league I think the initial reaction is wow, but if you look at their scores they are right there in every single game. They've had some impressive wins and they've played people really tough."

Auburn has something on the line too. The Tigers need to win two games to be eligible for post-season play. With four seniors in the starting lineup you have to think they'll be pretty fired up to try and keep their careers alive.

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Since scoring 49 points in consecutive games against Tennessee (19) and Georgia (29) Chandler Parsons has scored just 12 in the last two games. The junior forward is six points shy of the 1,000 point mark for his career.

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Alex Tyus has also struggled lately with just 21 points in his last three games, though 12 of them came against Kentucky. He is now 28 points away from joining the 1,000 point club.

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One Gator who could pick up his game from the first Auburn meeting is center Vernon Macklin. The 6-10 junior scored just seven points and grabbed four rebounds against the undersized Tigers.


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