GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida may have its best rebounder back just in time for Saturday’s game at one of the toughest places to play in the Southeastern Conference.
UF coach Billy Donovan said forward Will Yeguete was cleared to return to practice on Friday for the first time since suffering a concussion against Tennessee last Saturday. If Yeguete doesn’t have a setback during practice, handles Friday’s chartered flight to Arkansas well and feels well on Saturday morning, Donovan said he could be cleared to play against the Razorbacks.
"How he feels tonight, tomorrow morning is going to have a large impact on whether or not we can play him," Donovan said. "If it continues on this path, he could be OK."
The 6-foot-7, 222-pound Yeguete averages 6.1 rebounds while playing only 22.0 minutes per game. He's a key member of UF’s full-court press and is second on the team with 31 steals. He's a physical player who backs up starting center Patric Young, who is much more effective when he plays 24-26 minutes per game.
"I’m just happy that he can get back out there on the court," said Young, who is Yeguete's roommate. "You want to play a lot of minutes, but 36 minutes is a lot for a guy of my size. Hopefully he can come out there and no slack will be lost. He'll just be like he was before the concussion.
"He does a really good job of bringing energy to our team. Whenever we need a stop or a big rebound to go out into the break, that's the guy who’s going to start that kind of thing. When he gets the ball on offense and scores, it's usually some kind of big play."
Yeguete suffered the concussion against Tennessee when he was accidentally hit in the head by Jarnell Stokes' elbow early in the first half. Donovan said Yeguete briefly lost consciousness and also suffered a cut above his right eye, which required 10 stitches to close.
Donovan said Yeguete passed only two of the five concussion tests required for clearance on Sunday but passed all five on Wednesday. Team doctors cleared Yeguete for non-contact work and allowed him to run on a treadmill on Thursday. When he showed no ill effects on Friday morning, he was cleared to return to practice, Donovan said.
UF (20-6, 8-3 SEC) also could have guard Mike Rosario back against Arkansas (17-9, 5-6) on a limited basis as well. The 6-3 redshirt junior has missed the past two games with a hip pointer. He returned to practice on Friday but Donovan said he isn't likely to play much against the Razorbacks because he’s missed a week of practice.
"When you're out of practice and out of games for over a week there probably is a level of rust," Donovan said. “There probably is a level of timing that needs to get back. Yesterday he worked out just individually, shooting, moving cutting, doing those things. I think he's feeling better than he did a few days ago and even before the Alabama game, but what kind of help he can give us tomorrow, I think that'd probably be wishful thinking on my part to think that going in here this guy’s going to play a major role in the game. But he would be available to play if he can continue to get through the practice without any pain."
Potentially getting those two back comes at a critical time because the 12th-ranked Gators are playing against a Razorbacks team that hasn't lost at home this season (17-0). Arkansas is last in the league in rebounding margin in conference games -- so not having Yeguete would hurt the Gators -- but the Razorbacks lead the league in 3-point defense (28.9 percent) in SEC games.