Gators a mess in frontcourt

The absence of sophomore Will Yeguete has become a major issue for Florida. Kim Klement/US Presswire

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Billy Donovan said Saturday night that the Gators were not a hardened team because they haven't gone through much adversity.

Looks like the Gators are packing a season's worth in the next week.

Florida will be without forward Will Yeguete (concussion) and guard Mike Rosario (hip) and forward Cody Larson (illness) will be limited for Tuesday's game at Alabama, and Donovan said Yeguete also will be out for Saturday's game at Arkansas and he is unsure when Yeguete will be able to return.

That leaves the Gators severely shorthanded in the frontcourt, and it will force Donovan to use smaller lineups and play guard/forward Casey Prather and guards Bradley Beal and Scottie Wilbekin at power forward. Donovan will only have two days to get those three to understand the different defensive responsibilities in the press and zone, figure out where they're supposed to provide help defense, and get them to understand their roles on offense.

"Dire is probably a pretty good word," Donovan. "I’m not saying our team is not impacted by Will not being able to play, but that’s the hand we’re dealt. How do we play? How do we compete? What kind of presence and disposition do we carry? How unified and connected? All those things are much, much more important because you can play really, really hard and really, really well and be undermanned and still fall short."

The 6-foot-7 Yeguete is UF's sixth man and third-leading rebounder (6.1 per game), and he's the Gators' best post defender. He's also the player who spells Patric Young at center, an important job because Young is less effective when he has to play more than 30 minutes in a game. He's a high-energy player who Donovan says is having trouble maintaining a consistent level in the 26 minutes he already averages.

That's in addition to the fact that Young has been battling tendinitis in his right ankle for weeks.

The Gators need more rebounding from 6-10 Erik Murphy (4.1 per game), who is more of a perimeter threat than a post presence. He's leading the team in 3-point shooting (44.2 percent) but has just nine rebounds in his last three games combined.

A bigger burden also will fall to the 6-3 Beal, the 6-2 Wilbekin, and the 6-6 Prather. Beal is UF's second-leading rebounder (6.2 per game), but Wilbekin is a backup point guard who plays 13.7 minutes per game. Prather is averaging just 9.8 minutes per game and he hasn't made a basket since Dec. 9, 2011.

"We can't really be too worried about it," Wilbekin said. "We just have to make do with what we have right now. It's definitely a tough situation. We just have to react appropriately and come together as a team."

It's a shaky situation, Donovan said, because there really isn't enough time to prepare those three to play entirely new positions, especially on defense.

"Brad Beal is not that comfortable at the four spot all the time defensively, because you’re dealing with totally different rotations," Donovan said. "He can be in a bind. Or if I’m playing Scottie against a frontcourt player, he’s in a situation where he’s having to deal with different things. And the other thing, when you go zone, Scottie is used to playing the top part of the zone, but now he’s got to move back to the baseline. That’s a whole different scenario there.

"We’re probably not going to be able to go out there and pressure as much as we have in the past. We’re probably going to have to do some things to protect Patric and Murph a little bit, change some defenses. I just think we’re going to have to alter what we’re doing some."

It's unclear how the Gators will match up against Alabama because Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant said Tuesday that he has "most likely" determined the status of the four players he suspended. Starters JaMychal Green and Trevor Releford and reserve Andrew Steele sat out Saturday's game against LSU. Starter Tony Mitchell missed his second game against the Tigers. Those four account for 69 percent of Alabama's scoring and 57 percent of its rebounding.

If Grant follows through with his plan to play Releford and Steele but continue to sit Green and Mitchell, the Gators won't be limited by their smaller lineup. But there's also no guarantee that Rosario or the 6-9 Larson will be available for Saturday's game against Arkansas, either.

Even if they are able to return, the Gators still are in trouble because Donovan is unsure how long Yegeute will be out. Donovan said Yeguete has passed two of the five concussion tests he must take to be cleared to return to practice. It's the second concussion of the season for Yeguete, who also was injured against Ohio State on Nov. 15, 2011.

"The concussion issues now because of football have been addressed at certainly a very, very heightened level, and there’s just this protocol that we have to go through regardless of how Will’s feeling," Donovan said. "I don’t think he’s having any symptoms where he’s sick or he’s just dizzy all the time. I think he feels OK, but he’s not passing these tests.

"I think three of the tests he's not really showing any signs that he's close to passing them. This could be a couple of weeks, this could be a week, it could be three weeks."