Gators Well Aware Time Is Now
GAINESVILLE - The long season suddenly is very short. The Florida Gators have just three regular-season games remaining before the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament comes to Tampa - and so much still to get done. The Gators host Tennessee today. On Wednesday night, they play at Mississippi State before returning home to finish their schedule against Kentucky on Saturday. Three games in six days, and no room for error. "I'm excited we're in the mix," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. The Gators have made themselves prime ingredients in the SEC Eastern Division race that has become a pressure cooker.Heading into today's 2 p.m. nationally televised meeting with Tennessee, Florida (21-7, 8-5 SEC) is tied with the Volunteers, one-half game behind South Carolina, which lost at Vanderbilt on Saturday night. The top two teams in the regular-season division standings receive a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. "Obviously, this is a big ballgame for both teams, as we are looking to build our resume for the tournament and try to keep pace in the SEC," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "Florida has played great at home all season, and we understand what a challenge it's going to be." The Gators have been a force in the O'Connell Center this season, going undefeated in 15 games. Tennessee, however, has a streak of its own working against Florida. The Vols have won six of the past seven meetings between the teams, including three of four in Gainesville and a lopsided trouncing earlier this season in Knoxville. Kentucky, next weekend's season-ending opponent, also defeated Florida in an earlier meeting this season.And that is where unknown variables begin entering into Florida's equation. This Gators team has been here before: Last year, to be exact, when it lost eight of 11 games to miss an NCAA Tournament invitation after having won back-to-back national championships. Going into today's meeting with Tennessee, the Gators have lost three of their past five and are coming off a loss Tuesday at LSU. Donovan insists nothing except today matters. "From a coaching perspective, what happened yesterday, or a week ago, or 10 days ago, or three years ago, has nothing to do with what's going on in front of you now," he said. "We have to understand it's about preparing for right now. "I've never been a big believer that your past equals your future, good or bad. It has happened. It's done. It's right now and what kind of advantage do you take of opportunities in front of you."
Reporter Mick Elliott can be reached at (813) 281-2534.