Florida Gators pulling away from SEC in January again

Florida Gators pulling away from SEC in January again

January 21st, 2014 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Florida center Patric Young (4) is one of the key veterans helping the Gators pull away from the rest of the SEC this month.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

SEC Southeastern Conference

SEC Southeastern Conference

College basketball is about peaking in March, but the Florida Gators definitely have January covered.

Florida has won 16 consecutive January games against Southeastern Conference opposition, which includes this year's 4-0 league start. Billy Donovan's Gators won their first eight SEC games last season and went on to win the league with a 14-4 mark, and they are the only undefeated team this year through the first two weeks of conference clashes.

"I don't know if there's anything we necessarily do or don't do," Donovan said Monday. "Every game is different, and I think you try to get as prepared and as ready as you can. Sometimes during the year some teams are just playing better than others."

The Gators won their fourth league game with Saturday's 68-61 triumph at Auburn, and they visit Alabama on Thursday. Florida is 15-2 overall and the SEC's highest-ranked team at No. 6 in the latest Associated Press poll.

Florida is also the most veteran SEC team with the senior quartet of guard Scottie Wilbekin, forwards Casey Prather and Will Yeguete and center Patric Young. Prather leads the team with 17.3 points per game, while Wilbekin averages 12.7 points and is tops in minutes (33.8) and assists (3.6).

Young averages 10.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and leads the Gators with 16 blocks, while Yeguete is Florida's only player to start all 17 games. They comprise a dynamic that Donovan quickly admits he's fortunate to have.

"You don't know in today's day and age with the way things are," he said. "A guy like Patric Young probably had every opportunity to leave after his freshman, sophomore or junior year and probably would have gone in the first round [of the NBA draft]. For him, the college experience, education and degree were some things his family valued a great deal, and that's what he wanted to do.

"A guy like Brad Beal, who was very gifted academically and was a pre-med major, had an opportunity to go very early in the draft and made the decision to go, so you don't know a lot of times. It's been great having these four guys kind of come in together and finish together."

Florida has the early edge for what would be a third SEC title in four years, but Donovan realizes there is a long way to go.

"I think we're an unselfish team, but our stats in assist-to-turnover ratio have not really reflected that," he said. "Because of some injuries and some suspensions, we're still getting used to playing with each other. It's going to take us some time to continue to play and utilize each other's strengths, talents and abilities to help us be better as a team."

Working overtime

Most SEC teams are 160 minutes into their conference schedule, but not the Arkansas Razorbacks.

The Razorbacks have been on the floor for 175 minutes after playing three consecutive games decided in overtime. Arkansas began its overtime stretch by losing to visiting Florida, defeating visiting Kentucky and then losing this past Saturday at Georgia.

"I can't recall being in three straight OTs, and I'm sure they don't want a fourth," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "They ought to be an experienced overtime team as they move forward. Physically it's not that much more, especially with the depth they have, and kids are pretty resilient these days, so I don't think there will be much hangover from that."

Said Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings: "That's obviously very unusual, and it's almost cruel and unusual punishment, I would say."

Odds and ends

Ole Miss senior guard Marshall Henderson, who was suspended for the first two league games, was named Monday as SEC player of the week after averaging 22 points in wins last week over LSU and South Carolina. ... The SEC has just two NCAA tournament certainties right now with Florida sixth in the RPI and Kentucky 16th. Tennessee is next at 51st, with Missouri 53rd.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.