GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Some of the Southeastern Conference's basketball coaches are a bit upset at the inequity of the league's scheduling of Thursday-Saturday games over the past three seasons. Some schools -- Florida in particular -- have played with just one day of rest more than others.
Erving Walker, however, doesn't understand the angst.
"We're young kids. We shouldn't be worn down with a day of rest," UF's senior point guard said. "We got a day of rest Friday and we were ready to go today. We like to play."
Florida has handled that quick turnaround better than any other team in the league. With the 13th-ranked Gators' 69-57 victory over 16th-ranked Mississippi State in front of 12,045 at the O'Connell Center, UF improved to 5-1 in Saturday games that followed a Thursday game. The Gators' only loss came at Kentucky last February.
Coach Billy Donovan said he isn't sure the exact reason why the Gators (17-4, 5-1 SEC) have been so good in those situations, but said it may have a lot more to do with his players' mental abilities rather than their physical toughness. Plus, they'd rather play than practice any day, and they know the day between those games will be nothing more than a light workout.
"I think most guys like playing," Donovan said. "Probably the happiest day of their life was [Friday] because they knew they weren't going to practice hard, because we needed to keep them somewhat fresh. But I give our guys credit because you can have those [Thursday-Saturday] games, but it really takes a mental focus by them to get the information in a short period of time, not have it too complicated, and get them to lock in on what they're doing and what their job is.
"To their credit, those guys last year and this year, we had teams that could really focus in pretty well."
Florida's game at Ole Miss tipped off at 7 p.m., Thursday night. The Gators had to rally from a 10-point halftime deficit to win 64-60 in a physical game, then deal with travel issues. They couldn't fly out of Oxford, had to bus to Tupelo, then had a delay before leaving and finally arrived in Gainesville around 1:30 a.m. Saturday's game tipped off 42½ hours after the Ole Miss game, and the Gators again had to battle with one of the SEC's most physical teams.
Mississippi State (17-5, 4-3) has one of the SEC's biggest players in 6-foot-10, 285-pound Renardo Sidney, and the Bulldogs out-rebounded Florida 34-26 and went to the free-throw line twice as many times. Patric Young struggled inside in the first half against Sidney, making just 1-of-4 shots and scoring two points.
Eventually, though, the Gators wore down the Bulldogs. Donovan chose to press nearly the entire game to make Bulldogs point guard Dee Bost work to get the ball up the court, and he tried to make the Bulldogs play an up-tempo game to tire them out. The Gators were able to finally pull away in the second half with an 11-0 run than lasted 4:51.
MSU went 0-for-6 and turned the ball over twice during that span, which allowed Florida to take a 62-47 lead.
"I thought it was really important that we press today, just to try to force them and force tempo," Donovan said. "The one thing that's hard with Mississippi State -- with Bost is the ball's in his hands so much. They run when he wants them to run and they rest when he wants them to rest. I felt like the game couldn't be played where were running and getting up and down the floor when he wanted to. We needed to get up the floor [when we wanted to].
MSU, which beat LSU at home on Wednesday night, couldn't. Coach Rick Stansbury said he is impressed with the way Florida handled the short turnaround -- and he would know something about that, because the Bulldogs are 5-0 in those Saturday games (all at home) over the past three seasons.
"It's better when you're at home, that's for sure," Stansbury said. "It's really difficult if you have a Thursday home [game] and have to travel Saturday. Thursday away, coming home Saturday is a little easier, but still, as a coach, none of us likes it."
Maybe the key to Florida's success is that the players do.
"We don't mind it. We just like to play," Walker said. "Whenever we get a chance to play a game is a good feeling."
Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.