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March 15, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Florida struggled to shake LSU early, leading just 18-17 at one point in the first half in its first game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. But a 9-0 run and a career scoring day from senior forward Erik Murphy helped the Gators rout LSU by an 80-58 score and advance to play the winner of Alabama and Tennessee.
Here's a look at the key storylines from the Gators' 25th win of 2012-13.
Murphy unstoppable in Gators' opening gameMurphy suffered a minor knee injury during Wednesday's practice, and had been hurting some since. But it was clear early in Thursday's rout of LSU that he'd be dishing out more pain than taking it against the Tigers.
The senior burned LSU inside and out, connecting for a career-high 28 points and adding a dozen rebounds. Murphy finished 11-of-15 from the field (5-of-7 on 3s) and collected those points on just 25 minutes. He had 15 at half.
"He's a great player. He's versatile, and he can play both inside and out," LSU's Charles Carmouche said afterward. "He kinda keeps the defense on its toes, because if you've got a big guarding him, he'll take him outside, and if he has a guard guarding him, he'll end up posting him and taking him on the block. So, it's a tough match-up."
Florida coach Billy Donovan spoke to Murphy's development this season in those respects.
"To be honest, it's taken us along time to be able to help him with that. It's something that I think he's gotten better with over time. Where he understands what's happening in screening action and having a better awareness of who's on him, and then once he's had that awareness, he's done a pretty good job here of late of making himself available to catch the ball," Donovan said.
"So if you're going to try to put a small guy on him, we'll get it down inside, and we can post him and finish over or around. And then obviously when we're on the perimeter and bigger guys are trying to chase him and find him, he becomes effective shooting 3s. But Erik's done a much, much better job in terms of his basketball intellect. I think over the course of the season, he's gotten better at that."
Murphy hurt his knee in what Donovan termed "a teaching drill" earlier in the week, but termed himself "fine" on Friday. He's now posted a double-double in back-to-back games.
Gators kill it on the glassUF hasn't been a great rebounding team, but tell that to LSU, as Florida won the rebounding battle by a 47-27 margin on Saturday.
"We did a pretty good job on the glass," Donovan said. "I wouldn't say that we're a great rebounding team, but we can over-achieve and do a better job than we have in the past of rebounding."
The plus-20 margin tied UF's second-best effort on the season (Alabama State, Nov. 11). Florida's plus-24 vs. Mississippi State on Feb. 9 remains the high-water mark. The Gators were plus-10 in each half on Friday.
Playing hard, playing smart, playing healthyAfter going through the SEC like a buzz-saw for most of the season, the Gators looked a lot more vulnerable after losing three of their final six games. But as Donovan noted, the Gators now have all their key players back and healthy, and that's made a difference. The Gator coach said that the team had prepared well in the days leading up to Friday, and as a result said that his team "came out focused and ready to play."
Reading between the lines from what center Patric Young said, the practices weren't for the faint of heart.
"I can't lie, it was a really difficult practice, but I enjoyed every minute of it," Young said. "Coach really challenged us because he wants us to be great, and we really challenged each other. We went out and I can say that we honestly left everything we had in those practices leading up to the tournament here, and it really did help us prepare to focus on finishing games and do what it takes to win."
Young spoke to the how the practice helped the team with focus.
"We did a better job of minimizing those times when we have slippage. What I mean by 'slippage,' is, when we lose focus and we're not aware that we had two or three turnovers consecutively, or don't realize we didn't get a good shot up. I think we did a good job not doing that as much," Young said.
In some ways, the stat sheet backed Young up.
The Gators had 16 turnovers, but just six were in the first half. The Gators later emptied the bench once the game had been decided and played 12 men. No player saw more than 27 minutes of floor time.
Wilbekin proves his worthGator point guard Scottie Wilbekin must have wondered what he needed to do in order to prove to the league's coaches that he belonged on one of the league's two all-conference teams. All Wilbekin did was shoot 46.4 percent from the field, lead the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, and make the All-Defensive team, and yet for some reason the coaches excluded him from the list of 17 men who made either first- or second-team all-conference.
Wilbekin's value was on full display on Friday; the junior scored 16 points, missing a combined three shots from the field and the line. He handed out three assists, had just one turnover, and had UF's only two steals.