Florida Gators Continue To Roll in SEC Play but Face a Tough Stretch

Jim FolsomContributorFebruary 22, 2011

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 11:  (L-R) Kenny Boynton #1 and Vernon Macklin #32 of the Florida Gators react to a play against the Auburn Tigers during the first round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at the Bridgestone Arena on March 11, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Another great week for the Gators ended with a win at LSU. Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a place UF normally has trouble in, not having won there since 2003. But the Gators pounded the ball inside to their big men in the first half to build a 40-25 lead. Vernon Macklin scored 16 points for the Gators, who also got six points a piece from Alex Tyus and Patric Young. Eric Murphy also had four.

In the second half, LSU went into a zone defense, and Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton responded with big performances. They eventually ended up with 17 points each for the game. Florida played without Chandler Parsons, who suffered a deep thigh bruise in the win over Tennessee. Hopefully, he will be back soon because Florida will need him for the home stretch.

In the win over Tennessee, the Gators struggled with Parsons hobbled. The Vols led much of the way, taking a six-point lead into the locker room at halftime. But the Gators somehow clawed their way back in the second half. With Florida trailing 45-38, Walker and Parsons each connected on three-pointers to cut the lead on one. But UT stretched it back to a 53-49 advantage before the Gators went on a 6-0 run to take their first lead of the second half.

The teams then traded baskets pretty much the rest of the way with Walker hitting a driving left-handed layup with 14 seconds to play to give the Gators a 61-60 lead. Then Cameron Tatum's jump shot to win it for the Vols fell short, and Florida had won another nail-biter.

The Gators have a tough slate of games the next two weeks before the SEC Tournament starts. They will host Georgia on Thursday night and then travel to Kentucky on Saturday. A split is all they need. Currently, the Gators are tied with Alabama for the top spot overall in the SEC at 10-2. But, they have a two-game lead in the East over Vanderbilt. So, a split this week keeps UF in the overall hunt and virtually locks up the East.

Assuming Alabama wins both of its games this week, the Gators have a shot at the Tide at home next Tuesday. Hopefully Bama will lose a game somewhere else because Florida still has a road game the following Saturday at Vanderbilt. It would be nice if that game wasn't for the SEC Championship. I'm sure Florida is hoping that the game against the Tide will be an SEC Championship Game.

Florida could get some help from Tennessee tonight against Vanderbilt. A Vol win would mean UF can clinch the East by beating Georgia. Then it will be all about beating Alabama for the regular season SEC Championship.

Many people scoffed at the SEC preseason predictions of Florida winning the conference. What do those people have to say now?

And can we finally crown Billy Donovan the SEC Coach of the Year? I think he's earned it.