Wilbekin, Gators chomp Missouri in SEC Tournament

Tigers make 14 turnovers, await the word of NCAA selection committee.

Missouri Tigers guard Jordan Clarkson (5) drives past Florida Gators center Patric Young (4) during the third-round SEC Tournament game between Missouri and Florida on Friday, March 14, 2014, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — Keanau Post had a rebound underneath. Then Florida’s Will Yeguete poked it away.

Jabari Brown dove on the loose ball and rolled over to throw an outlet pass, but Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin lunged on top of him and pried the ball free.

But Wilbekin didn’t see the play that way. And why should he? The Gators are winners of 24-straight games and the prohibitive favorite to win the Southeastern Conference Tournament and earn the top overall slot in the NCAA tournament.

Brown got to the ball second, Wilbekin said.

The ease with which Florida executed the next possession might suggest the same thing.

Gator coach Billy Donovan took a quick timeout. Out of the huddle, Wilbekin, the SEC’s player of the year, buried a 3-pointer.

“I knew that Brown was going to go try to make a break for the ball,” Wilbekin said. “I was able to get there before him and save it to Will.”

That shot came in the middle of a 16-2 run for the nation’s top team and conference No. 1 seed Gators (30-2, 18-0 SEC), who shoveled No. 8 seed Missouri 72-49 in the conference tournament’s quarterfinals Friday.

“When we needed to score, they went on a run,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “We were not able to continue to score.”

Florida will advance to play No. 4 seed Tennessee in the semifinals on Saturday.

Missouri (22-11, 9-9 SEC) awaits the word of the NCAA tournament selection committee to determine its postseason fate.

Just as the Tigers seemingly had a routine defensive rebound, so too did they have Florida within striking distance for much of Saturday. The teams went to the half tied at 29 off a dunk from sophomore forward Ryan Rosburg.

“I was disappointed in our first half,” Donovan said. “I thought we looked a little bit out of it. Didn't play as well as we would have hoped to.”

But Florida scored the first seven points of the next period to create separation, and Mizzou never regained the lead. Missouri led by as many as four very early on.

The Tigers struggled with turnovers throughout the match. They had 14 in the game, and the Gators took advantage with 19 points. Mizzou committed 12 turnovers when the teams met earlier this season.

Florida’s long, agile zone held Missouri to 36.4 percent shooting and 7 percent from 3-point range.

“I feel like they play in tandem with each other well,” said Brown, who scored a game-high 18 points on 4-of-11 shooting. “They always know where their teammate is going to be at. And then when they play in the zone, they're pretty long along the back end.”

Florida racked up 16 assists, five shy of a tournament watermark, and scored 29 points in the paint.

“We don't have players like Clarkson and Brown that can go get theirs like those guys can,” Donovan said. “I would even throw Ross in there as well. Our team is not like that. Our guys have had to rely on each other.”

The bench scoring that led the Tigers past Texas A&M yesterday in double overtime, was absent. They mustered only six bench points and never scored in transition.

Only two players for Missouri, Brown and junior guard Jordan Clarkson, scored in double figures.

Post, who started for the second straight game, contributed three points and four rebounds. Freshman Johnathan Williams III added two of each.

Florida’s starting frontline combined for 21 points and 10 boards. The Gators’ Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II each scored 15 points and combined to go 10-of-13 from 3.

“Especially when we can make 3s, it gets us a little bit more separation,” Wilbekin said.

His triple off that loose ball proved to be case and point.

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