Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Sports

Florida Gators open SEC tournament skidding but confident, face Alabama on Friday

NEW ORLEANS — Bradley Beal has absolutely no idea what to expect when he arrives at the New Orleans Arena today.

The Florida freshman guard will be playing in his first SEC tournament with a Gators squad that has lost five of its past eight. And while Beal doesn't have past experience to draw upon, one thing he's very clear on is he's confident the Gators will enter today's tournament opener prepared to do whatever it takes to reverse the fortunes of the past two weeks.

"Our confidence is always high," Beal said. "Everybody is zero and zero now. We're going into the tournament with fresh minds and fresh legs. Everybody is going to be ready to play."

Florida (22-9), which had a first-round bye, plays Alabama (21-10) at 3:30 today in the quarterfinals. Alabama defeated South Carolina 65-57 in the first round Thursday.

"Both of us will be familiar with each other because we played two weeks ago," Alabama coach and former UF assistant Anthony Grant said. "To say there's an advantage or disadvantage (to having met so recently), it's just familiarity. We've got to do a great job to prepare. I told our guys after the game … to take a few minutes to celebrate and then we've got to get ready."

The Gators defeated the Crimson Tide 61-52 on Feb. 14, but Alabama was at a distinct disadvantage in that game because senior forward JaMychal Green was out due to a suspension.

On Thursday, Green had 12 points and seven rebounds. Florida's inside game has taken a hit since the last time the two met, with the loss of sophomore forward Will Yeguete to a broken foot. The injury situation has forced coach Billy Donovan to alter his lineup in multiple ways, and the changes have been part of the Gators' struggles the past two weeks. But Donovan believes his team is coming around at the right time.

"I think there's definitely more confidence, they're more comfortable in terms of things that we're trying to do," Donovan said. "I still think we can get better at it. I think they're getting a better understanding of what we're trying to do."

Junior guard Kenny Boynton said the Gators are keenly aware of the situation they're in: needing to correct mistakes that have plagued them recently, trying not to enter the NCAA Tournament on a four-game losing streak.

"We know we need to get better as a team," Boynton said. "Not three in a row, but losses are good for our team. It's kind of like a new season. I know we understand that now, you have one loss and you're done. … I think we'll come out our next game in the SEC tournament, the negative things that we've been having, we've got to fix them. The rebounding, the teams shooting a great percentage against us. I think we've got to do our job of taking the negatives and turning it into a positive."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

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