Top-seeded Florida looked crisp and business-like during the quarterfinal round of the SEC tournament Friday afternoon, easily dispatching ninth-seeded LSU 80-58.
Florida (25-6) rode a career day from senior Erik Murphy, who finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds.
The Gators are trying to shake off a poor end to the regular seaason in which the team finished 3-3 and are attempting to win the program’s first SEC tournament since 2007.
Florida will play Alabama in the semifinals after the Crimson Tide bounced Tennessee 58-48 in its quarterfinal game.
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That semifinal will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday.
While happy with the performance, Murphy knows there is work to do.
“Obviously, we want to win the tournament here, but we have to take it one game at a time,” Murphy said.
Murphy was hot from inside as well as the perimeter, hitting 11 of 15 from the floor, including five three-pointers.
What made Murphy’s performance even more impressive is the fact that his coach wasn’t sure the forward would even be available to play.
Murphy went down in Wednesday’s practice, and medical staff members were a little unnerved.
“At the time, they were concerned,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “I’m not a doctor. I don’t know. I go off what they tell me. They were concerned. I think when the MRI came back later that night and it was clean …”
Donovan went on to talk about how he felt his team was getting healthy at the right time, citing a battle with injuries over the last half of the regular season.
Donovan was happy with the win, especially considering how the Gators finished the regular season.
“I was pleased with the way we played from start to finish,” Donovan said.
Florida controlled the paint, outrebounding the Tigers 47-27. In addition, Florida shot 55 percent from beyond the three-point arc, knocking down 11 threes.
After feeling out the competition, it was apparent early that Florida was the best team on the court. The Gators hit five of their first eight shots.
LSU hung tough early in the first half, but Michael Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin led a run that would see Florida explode during the remainder of the half.
Frazier knocked down a long three, giving the Gators a comfortable 43-28 lead.
The only real negative from the first half came from the charity stripe, where the Gators were 1 for 7.
Florida kept its foot on the gas in the second half, even hitting its first four free throws.
LSU tried to cut into the lead but never got within 20.
As for the next opponent, Florida took on Alabama on March 2 in Gainesville, one of the few bright spots on the late-season schedule.
If the Gators win Saturday they will play in the championship game Sunday at 1 p.m.
Last season, Florida defeated Alabama in the SEC tournament 66-63. The Crimson Tide bounced the Gators from the 2008 tournament.