ATLANTA — Florida's struggles for most of Friday's SEC tournament quarterfinal against Missouri might have surprised many, but coach Billy Donovan wasn't among them. He saw it coming from a mile away.
Donovan said a multitude of factors, including a six-day layoff and a Tuesday scrimmage he described as "awful," led him to believe his top-ranked team might struggle against the Tigers.
And for nearly 28 minutes, it was a struggle. But a 12-0 run midway through the second half eventually led to a 72-49 victory over the No. 8-seeded Tigers at the Georgia Dome.
Florida (30-2) now has three 30-win seasons under Donovan, and the victory extended its win streak to 24 games.
The No. 1-seeded Gators play Tennessee today in the semifinals. UF beat the Vols 67-41 at home on Jan. 25 and 67-58 in Knoxville on Feb. 11.
Against Missouri (22-11), a hustle play by point guard Scottie Wilbekin sparked Florida.
Florida forward Will Yeguete hit a layup to put it up 40-36 with 10:04 left. Wilbekin then stole Keanau Post's inbound and passed to Yeguete. Yeguete sent it back to Wilbekin who hit a 3-point shot.
"The referee's count was coming down, so I knew that (Missouri guard Jabari) Brown was going to try to make a break for the ball," Wilbekin said. "I was able to get there before him and save it to Will."
"That's what Scottie does. He makes plays," Florida guard Kasey Hill said. "That definitely lifted us up, and everybody else wanted to play harder after that."
From there, the Gators outscored the Tigers 34-13.
Wilbekin and guard Michael Frazier led the Gators with 15 points, and forward Dorian Finney-Smith added 10. Frazier, a Tampa native, became the first Gator to have eight games with at least five 3-pointers in a season. The Gators made 12 of 21 3-pointers and held Missouri to 1-of-13.
"There were just 11 minutes to go in the second half, and they were shooting 31 percent," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "I thought we were just grinding it. They made shots and got it going a little bit. They did what they do."
Florida opened the game with three turnovers and an air ball and shot 9-of-26 in the first half.
"I think it was us not coming in here with the right mind-set," Finney-Smith said. "In the second half we really picked it up and we started playing for one another. I think guys weren't ready to play. It just looked like we were a step behind in the first half."
Donovan said he was particularly disappointed in the first-half play of his seniors. Florida was outscored 16-6 inside the paint, and center Patric Young and forward Casey Prather were a combined 1-for-7.
"I thought the guys did a good job, especially the older guys, regrouping in the second half in the locker room," Donovan said. "They showed some resiliency and some fight and some battle there in the second half."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]om. Follow her on Twitter at @TBTimes_Gators.