Even though Florida’s most anticipated game of the year is in its rear-view mirror, it cannot afford to skip any steps in preparation for Auburn (12-11, 4-8 Southeastern Conference) tonight at 7 in the O’Connell Center.
Coach Billy Donovan said one of the most challenging parts of the No. 2 Gators (23-2, 12-0 SEC) having one of its best seasons in school history is dealing with contentment in the locker room.
“We obviously had a week where we played two road games — it was two really good wins for our guys,” Donovan said. “But right now, they don’t mean anything as it relates to going into this next game against Auburn. So are we willing to take ourselves all the way to the bottom and realize that we’re starting off at the bottom and now we obviously have to build and prepare for this next them, and then after the Auburn game are you prepared to go all the way back down to the cellar again and have to prepare and have to go back up?”
The last time the Gators were ranked the second-best team in the country was more than a year ago on Feb. 4, 2013. Florida lost the next day to unranked Arkansas, which was 13-8 and 4-4 in the SEC heading into the matchup.
Last season’s squad then fell five spots to No. 7 with a 19-3 overall record and just that one conference defeat.
In the first contest against Auburn on Jan. 18, Florida needed 21 points from Casey Prather, who had just returned from a bruise in his right knee that caused him to miss the two previous games, to pull away late for a 68-61 victory on the road.
With Kasey Hill doubtful for Wednesday’s matchup due to a groin injury, Donovan said he has to continue to preach the importance of staying focused.
“The hardest thing right now in regards to that is we’re dealing with really good kids that are between 18 and 22 years old that are trying to figure their way in life and understand they have some great opportunities to learn and grow in a lot of different ways,” Donovan said. “But at the same point, they’re human. They’re not robots. They’re not machines. The challenge I always talk to them about is are you prepared today to battle human nature? Human nature says let’s take it easy.”
Scottie Wilbekin said he is most concerned about Auburn guards Chris Denson and KT Harrell. The two are not only the Tigers’ leading point scorers on the season, but Denson also leads the SEC averaging 20.9 per game with Harrell just trailing at No. 5 with 19.2.
“They’re capable of going off with big nights, both of them, so we’ve got to do a better job this game on limiting their straight-line drives and just playing better on-ball defense,” Wilbekin said of Denson and Harrell.
But because only two of the Gators’ six remaining regular-season opponents have above-.500 records within the league, and with the SEC nearly sewn up, Florida could start implementing freshman Chris Walker and sophomore DeVon Walker more in its rotations to give him helpful playing experience before the postseason.
“I think for Chris, because our frontcourt for the most part stayed out of foul trouble, there wasn’t really a need for him,” Donovan said. “But I still think those guys could be called upon here on Wednesday night. And we could really, really need them. And they need to be ready to play.”
Follow Jonathan Czupryn on Twitter @jczupryn
Senior forward Casey Prather dunks during the second half of Florida’s 69-59 win against Kentucky on Saturday in Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.