GAINESVILLE — Ordinarily, you would expect Florida coach Billy Donovan to do cartwheels and backflips over the news his top two reserves will return from injuries (and a third won't miss time due to one) with three regular-season games remaining.
But Donovan has been down this road before. So though he is happy to have forwards Will Yeguete and Casey Prather and guard Michael Frazier II medically cleared to play against Alabama today at the O'Connell Center, he cautions that doesn't mean the eighth-ranked Gators will automatically return to the team that dominated SEC opponents in January.
"I'm more concerned about it than anything else," Donovan said. "Our guys need to understand that although some of these guys are coming back, Frazier's been out of practice for quite a bit of time. And Yeguete's been out for three weeks. So our guys that have been through the grind of most of the last month or so, they can't rest and relax … because I just don't know if Frazier and/or Yeguete are going to be able to really provide some significant minutes for us."
The Gators went 4-3 without Yeguete, who had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. All the losses came on the road, including at Arkansas, where he got hurt. (Frazier missed Tuesday's loss at Tennessee with a concussion and has had back spasms. Prather fell hard Tuesday but didn't sustain a concussion.)
Florida has been outrebounded in four of its past six games and struggled in the paint against bigger teams, particularly when center Patric Young has gotten in foul trouble. At Tennessee, the Gators used mostly a six-man rotation.
"It wasn't easy watching them play and not being able to be out there, especially because I was out last year (nine games with a broken foot)," Yeguete said. "I feel like a kid right now. I'm really excited to get back out there. I feel like it's been a minute since I played with those guys and just run the court and competed. But at the same time, I'm not going to be 100 percent. It's going to take time, and it's going to be a process."
First-place Florida has a one-game lead on Alabama in the SEC and is 13-0 at home this season. Donovan said he expects a serious challenge from the Tide, especially the backcourt of Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacy, and a defense that allows an average 58.2 points per game.
"They guard well," he said. "Releford … is one of the better point guards (in the SEC). Lacy is playing very, very well for them.
"(Rodney) Cooper is a mismatch problem for a lot of teams at the power forward spot. (Forward Nick) Jacobs continues to improve. (Guard Andrew) Steele is kind of the glue guy. So they've got a very good team."
Florida forward Erik Murphy, who leads the SEC in 3-point shooting at 46.7 percent, said the keys today are twofold for the Gators: Don't get caught thinking they can let up because of the return of the injured players and focus on Alabama, not the conference race.
"It's obviously a big game. Every game's a big game, though, at this point," Murphy said. "It would be great to … win an SEC regular-season championship. That's not something we can really do without winning. We have to stay focused on that task, which is the next game. And then after Alabama is the next game after that. But right now, we're just focused on Alabama."