We knew it was coming.
At least we should have.
After Florida head basketball coach Billy Donovan announced that defensive specialist and leading rebounder Will Yeguete would be out for the rest of the regular season because of a knee injury which required arthroscopic surgery, the death knell was sounded. Every blog or article remotely related to Florida basketball or college basketball in general announced to every ear to hear and every eye to read that THIS injury, unlike the multitude that has befallen this 21-4 Gator basketball team this season, was different.
In spite of the fact that the Gators had overcome every injury or benched player up to this point this season with relative indifference continuing to play with intensity and rolling over most every opponent they faced, this time would be different. Will Yeguete isn’t just another perimeter shooter to be replaced by an arsenal of perimeter shooters like, when Rosario or Murphy were ailing. Yeguete wasn’t simply a point guard being somewhat ably replaced by an out-of-place shooting guard like in the first few Gator games when Scottie Wilbekin was suspended indefinitely.
No, Yeguete was not only the Gators leading rebounder when he was taken from the lineup, he WAS their rebounder. He was the guy who provided length, athleticism, and active hands on the defensive end of the floor. He was to the frontcourt what Scottie Wilbekin is to the backcourt. When he went down, of course, everybody and their mother sounded off what a huge loss it was for the Gators rebounding and defensive fortunes in general.
We saw what happened at Arkansas when he played only the first 65 seconds before sitting out the rest of the game due to the injury. The Gators were missing something defensively without him in the lineup and they’re missing a great bit of rebounding that apparently no on the roster can replace.
Perhaps we were lulled to sleep and fooled somewhat by the Kentucky game. Kentucky’s front line has as much height and girth as any in the country and the worry coming into that game was how much the Gators would be affected by that size difference with only 6-9 Patric Young and 6-10 Erik Murphy being the only players over 6-7. The Gators showed no sign of overtly missing Yeguete in that game as Patric Young and Casey Prather played with an energy level well above that of any of the Kentucky frontcourt and the Gators dominated the game start to finish.
So what exactly happened at Missouri?
The inevitable caught up with them that’s what happened.
Missouri didn’t necessarily have a size advantage over the Gators, they were simply more athletic in the paint than Kentucky or any other team for that matter that the Gators have played this season. Laurence Bowers, Missouri’s all-everything forward, was just that against the Gators repeatedly hitting quick jump hooks, grabbing offensive rebounds, and manhandling the Gators post defense. Patric Young, who seemed unstoppable against Kentucky, was mostly a non-factor against Bowers and Missouri. The Gators certainly needed Yeguete’s athleticism to counter Bowers and they had no answer without him.
Even more damaging to the Gators cause was their inability to get the ball inside offensively. While Bowers was repeatedly gashing the Gators in the paint, Florida could not reciprocate on their end of the court. Add in the fact that the Gators were horrible on the offensive boards, an area that Yeguete really provides some oomph for the Gators, and it’s easy to see what cost them the game.
While Murphy and Young do provide some length and size in the post, they lack the athleticism that the Gators defensive tendencies require. Yeguete is the guy that allows the Gators to double the ball when it gets in the post and still be able to get back out to defend the perimeter. Without him the Gators defense is simply not as effective.
And not so obvious to most, without Yeguete the Gators are not nearly as effective offensively either. Yeguete provides quickness and athleticism in the screen game as well as backside rebounding leading to second chance points when perimeter shots are not necessarily falling. They could have used both against Missouri, especially late in the second half when the Tigers made their fateful run.
Realistically, the Gators had several opportunities to kind of take over the game and push the lead up to an almost insurmountable level but couldn’t get the job done. Offensively, they couldn’t get the ball into the paint effectively and settled for perimeter shots way too often. They attempted 33 three point shots against the Tigers, an incredible amount especially when you consider that the Gators were playing with a large lead for the majority of the game. With little post presence, perimeter shots not falling, and no backside rebounding help the Gators were dead in the water late when they should have been securing a victory.
Defensively, they couldn’t effectively defend the post or rebound in their zone defense. And when they were effective pushing the Tigers to late possession shots, they would give up open perimeter shots or high percentage mid range jumpers and floaters.
The Gators surely missed Yeguete against Missouri and will continue to miss him. With traditional upper echelon SEC basketball powers Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky left as well as the rematch with Arkansas, the going does not get any easier for the Gators. While at one point there was realistic optimism that Florida could possibly go undefeated in conference play, the question now becomes whether or not they can finish out unscathed. Without Yeguete that will continue to be a tall order.