Prather's will helps replace Yeguete

Florida head coach Billy Donovan said Thursday that Casey Prather still wasn't comfortable after returning from a high ankle sprain. He was timid in practice and tentative with the ball instead of the aggressive player that was creating a role for himself before the injury. A conversation with athletic trainer Duke Werner before Saturday's game against Mississippi State changed that.

"They told me just to push myself on it," Casey Prather said after an 83-58 win. "If it gets any worse, then that's on Duke. He told me to believe in him and be ready to play."

That was all the assurance Prather needed. He suffered the high ankle sprain on January 12 and missed two and a half weeks before returning to play limited minutes against South Carolina and Ole Miss last week. When Will Yeguete went down with his knee injury on Tuesday at Arkansas, Prather was forced into action.

He played 18 minutes and didn't score while grabbing two rebounds, two assists and two turnovers. It wasn't the encouraging performance Billy Donovan wanted to see with the opportunity for increased minutes on the table.

"The thing that was concerning to me was the Arkansas game when we really needed him," Donovan said. "We just didn't get anything out of him."

Prather was driven to not let that happen again. He spent extra time in the gym for individual workouts during the week and had extra time in the training room, trying to better his ankle and make him more comfortable on the court.

It didn't look like much had changed in the early minutes of the game when Prather got on the court. However, when he checked in for the second time with 12 minutes remaining in the first half, he was aggressive. He blocked a shot on the defensive end. Two possessions later, Prather jumped in and stole the ball in the press and had an impressive dunk to cap off the possession.

He hit a jumper the next time down the floor. Just like that, Prather was back to normal for Florida.

"I just know I have to bring more energy to the table since Will can't play," Prather said. The team loses a lot in rebounding and defense, so I wanted to step up and help like I could. I look at it as someone needing to step up and help the team. Will brought a lot of energy and positive things to the table, so I just need to help any way I can."

In a move that might have been by design, Donovan said on Thursday that he wasn't sure if Prather was even the first frontcourt player off the bench anymore. He praised freshman DeVon Walker for his play in practice while questioning where Prather was on the floor. Whether or not it was a move to motivate Prather, it worked.

He was allover the floor, totaling 12 points, five rebounds, one block and one steal in 22 minutes of play. Prather was also efficient on offense, going 5-for-9 from the field while committing two fouls.

Prather said it was tough to estimate the percentage his ankle is at right now, but he isn't fully healthy. That will come in time with more rest and rehab. The toughest part is when he has to plant his foot and cut on defense while not knowing here his man is going.

But if Saturday night was any indication, his presence on the floor could help soften the loss of Yeguete.

"That's what we need from him every night," freshman guard Michael Frazier said. "Come in and play hard, get offensive rebounds, easy buckets and play defense. That's what he did tonight."

And there could be more on the way as his ankle improves.

"It makes us a lot better," Rosario said of Prather's energy. "It shows the character of our team to have guys step in. Having Casey step in and give us that performance he gave tonight, plus Michael Frazier knocking down open shots and rebounding, it shows a lot about how committed we are as a unit. That says a lot about a great team."

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