GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Having lost four of its last five games, No. 25 Florida is limping into the NCAA tournament.And it's not just because of the walking boot on Will Yeguete's left foot.
Leading scorer Kenny Boynton is shooting 29 percent and averaging 9 points in Florida's last five games. Fellow guard Erving Walker hasn't been much better, shooting 34.5 percent from the floor and 30.7 percent from 3-point range over the same stretch. Throw in center Patric Young's inconsistency and guard Mike Rosario's suddenly diminished role and the Gators (23-10) look as vulnerable as any higher seed in the tournament field.
"I think it's an opportunity to start fresh," Walker said Monday. "Once again, it's another new season. Everything that happened in the past has nothing to do with Friday and moving forward."
Maybe, maybe not.
The late-season slump prompted the NCAA selection committee to make Florida the No. 7 seed in the West Region. The Gators will play 10th-seeded Virginia (22-9) on Friday in Omaha, Neb.
Coach Billy Donovan thought his team would garner a 5 or 6 seed, and was somewhat surprised when the pairings came out Sunday night.
"Whatever seed is handed out, I've always believed you move on and move forward," he said. "You aren't going to change anything. I think the committee spends an enormous amount of time and they're very diligent. ... I guess paired up or matched up with everyone in the field, they gave us a seed that they thought was fair. I don't have a problem with it. I'm fine. We have to go on and play."
Florida's seeding was the latest in a season of head-shakers for Donovan.
The Gators haven't played consistent defense all season and have shown a penchant for sluggishness when shots aren't falling. Four of the last five opponents have shot better than 52 percent from the field, hardly a recipe for success, especially against quality teams.
And the Gators closed with a tough slate.
They faced Vanderbilt, Alabama and Kentucky twice down the stretch. That's four games against teams that made the NCAA tournament a difficult closing schedule for anyone.
"I think that we've seen really, really good, quality opponents going into this," Donovan said.
Florida beat Alabama in the Southeastern Conference tournament before losing to top-ranked Kentucky 74-71. The Gators believe the loss was one of their best games of the season and seemingly got a much-needed confidence boost from it.
"Our last couple of games have been pretty strong," guard Bradley Beal said. "We came off a great win against Alabama and then a close battle against Kentucky, probably our best game we've played all year. So I'm real confident in our team and I think we'll be fine come Friday."
Beal has been one of Florida's bright spots down recently.
The freshman has scored at least 13 points in 12 of his last 13 games, and has picked up his rebounding numbers. Donovan told him he needed to do more in Yeguete's absence and take on a bigger leadership role.
"That's exactly what he told me," Beal said. "It's time to stop trying to step on everybody's toes and it's time to be more of a leader and start pushing guys to get better and really just taking more of a leadership role, whether it's telling guys to stay calm or relaxed or keep confidence."
Not only was Yeguete one of the team's best rebounders, he also brought energy and enthusiasm to Florida's full-court press. He broke his left foot Feb. 21 against Auburn and had season-ending surgery. The Gators haven't been the same without him.
Donovan responded by using more four-guard lineups.
Beal has adjusted well. Boynton and Walker? Not so much. But Donovan believes the problem has been about matchups than anything else.
"I do think we've had to play and kind of change our identity a little bit with Will being out," he said. "I think our guys are more accustomed, a little bit more comfortable as that's kind of started to unfold. But I think our guys have made some progress and strides, and probably some of the losses have got to do with some good quality opponents that we've played coming down the stretch."