Florida and LSU both made the Final Four last season. Only one of them has been able to maintain that level of play since.
Fresh off clinching the SEC regular season title, the third-ranked Gators (25-3, 12-1) look to continue building momentum for the postseason when they visit the last-place Tigers (14-13, 3-10).Florida earned its second outright SEC title and first since 1989 with Wednesday's 63-49 win over South Carolina. The defending national champions, who shared the league crown with Kentucky in 2000 and 2001, bounced back nicely after losing 83-70 at Vanderbilt last Saturday and falling out of the top spot in the rankings."It's great, but we're greedy," said forward Joakim Noah, who had 13 rebounds. "We want more. That's a great feeling and it's something we can't take lightly. It's about like we're supposed to do that. But we can't forget that it's special. We've won everything we can right now, but we want more."Florida, which had its school record-tying 17-game win streak snapped by the Commodores, matched a team record for conference victories in a 16-game schedule. The Gators went 14-4 in an 18-game SEC schedule in 1967.Florida also broke the team record for regular season wins, and a victory Saturday would give the Gators 26 overall victories in a season for just the fourth time in team history."You want to get to the point where you win championships," coach Billy Donovan said. "But don't take it for granted. What happened tonight was beyond significant in my opinion. When you have the level of expectation on our team, they've got to handle it. They get everybody's best shot. Just go down the conference and look at everybody else's record. These kids are the one group of any team that really separate themselves."LSU, meanwhile, hasn't come close to duplicating its success of last season. The Tigers, losers of three straight and sitting at the bottom of the West Division, are coming off Tuesday's 70-63 defeat at Kentucky.Coach John Brady, whose team went 27-9 and lost to UCLA in the national semifinals last season, said he blames himself for LSU's struggles. The Tigers will almost certainly have to win the SEC tournament if they want to return to the NCAAs."I'm not saying we don't have deficiencies, but it's up to the coach to overcome those deficiencies in situations to help his team," he said. "We just haven't been able to make the big play, or the critical play or the big shot to win a game like this on the road."The Tigers were without star forward Glen Davis, who did not travel with the team to Lexington because of a strained right leg muscle. Davis leads the SEC with 10.5 rebounds per game and ranks among the conference leaders with 18.1 points per contest.Florida's Al Horford scored a team-high 20 points Wednesday to help to make up for an off game from Taurean Green, who tops the Gators with 13.3 points a game but was held to six.The Gators, with five players averaging in double figures, rank among the top teams in the country with 80.3 points per game and lead the nation with a 52.9 field-goal percentage."We're all about setting records and this was one of our goals in the preseason -- to win the SEC regular season title," Horford said. "That's a great accomplishment."Florida beat LSU at home and in the semifinals of the conference tournament last season, ending a three-game losing streak in the series.