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College basketball

Gators not planning to rest just yet

Matt Bonner needs time to recover, but he won't have it as Florida tries to win its first SEC tournament title.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2003


GAINESVILLE -- As they prepare to begin play in the Southeastern Conference tournament, the Gators find themselves in an interesting quandary.

Their star player, first-team All-SEC forward Matt Bonner has plantar fascitis in his right foot, an injury that requires exercise, rehabilitation and rest.

But if Florida is to accomplish one of its major goals, rest is not in the cards.

Though the Gators have a first-round bye, they need to win three games in three days to earn the first SEC tournament championship in school history and make a stronger case for at least a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

To win or to rest? That is the question.

Except in Bonner's mind.

"We're trying to win the tournament championship, that's what we want to do is win championships," Bonner said. "No matter what, that's why you play. Every game you play is for a championship. And we've never won, we always lose on the second day. I don't know (if I'll hold up for three straight games), but there's not much you can do. So I'm going to just try to roll with the punches and see what happens."

It is about all the Gators can do.

Bonner's injury surfaced after the Georgia game March 4, but the Gators had three days off before playing Kentucky. In preparation for Friday's quarterfinal game against the winner of today's Arkansas-LSU game, Bonner will have had five days of rest. No one, including the senior from Concord, N.H., knows how well he'll hold up with games on consecutive days.

"That's definitely a concern," coach Billy Donovan said. "The unknown factor in this is we've never had a day when he's had to play back-to-back games or play, take a day off then play again like in the NCAA Tournament. That is a level of concern because it hasn't happened yet."

The players seem to be concerned more about potential opponents than their captain.

"I think if you look at the situation, it's Bonner and he's going to come through no matter what," said guard Anthony Roberson, who on Wednesday was named SEC Freshman of the Year. "He's going to find a way to help us even if he isn't playing. He'll be on the bench giving his all. We'll make a positive out of it no matter what."

At 24-6, Florida is a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but back-to-back losses to Georgia and Kentucky have left the Gators among several teams, including Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma, still trying to lock down a high seed -- and a trip to Tampa for first- and second-round games.

"The more you win, the more it's going to help your seeding, the more of an opportunity to play in Tampa," Donovan said. "There's a lot on the line for our basketball team."

Florida is 20-37 in the SEC tournament. Donovan is a proponent of moving the tournament to a Wednesday through Saturday event to give teams more time to rest before the NCAA Tournament, but he isn't sure why Florida has not fared better.

The Gators have wins over Arkansas and LSU, who have caused Florida trouble in previous years.

"I think we're walking into a similar situation again this year," Donovan said. "We've always played a first-round game, and then after we've played a first-round game we always play a team that we really have beaten pretty handily. Last year, we beat Mississippi State by 30-something points at home (and lost to the Bulldogs in the SEC tournament). In 2000, we had a similar situation with Auburn, where we beat them decisively at home. Our guys need to understand that if LSU (wins), we beat them by 17 but they are playing very well right now and our guys need to understand that."

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