GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Florida has been to four consecutive Southeastern Conference tournament championship games and won the past three.
At the very least, the Gators probably need to reach another one to get back to the NCAA tournament.
Having lost seven of their past 10 games and struggling to find consistency on both ends of the court, the two-time defending national champions know they have to string together some wins to have any shot at earning a 10th consecutive NCAA berth.
``It's clear right now we've got to win some games,'' coach Billy Donovan said Monday. ``But I think it was clear three weeks ago. I don't think anything has really changed around our team. I think the only thing that would change is people's opinion of what would need to be done. Do they have to win the tournament to get in?''
Maybe so, although some believe getting to the title game might be enough, especially for the reigning national champions.
The Gators (21-10, 8-8 SEC) open the conference tournament in Atlanta on Thursday night against Alabama. The winner faces Mississippi State on Friday.
It could be considered a favorable draw for Florida, which won at Tuscaloosa to begin conference play and played Mississippi State close despite a woeful shooting game.
If the Gators get by both of them, they could face Kentucky again. Florida split with the Wildcats, losing the second game 75-70 Sunday in Lexington.
Donovan didn't want his players looking beyond Alabama, but he acknowledged that being in this position should help down the road.
``I like the fact that they're going through all this,'' Donovan said. ``It was like I told our guys last year, 'The microscope that our team was under, you're not running from it, you're not hiding from it.' There's part of me in a strange way that loves the fact that they have to hear that, see that, deal with that.
``It's like dealing with anything else. I can't put them in a cocoon and put cotton in their ears and not have them hear anything and not think about anything. They need to learn how to handle that.''
Winning would be the best way to deal with it.
The Gators have won 18 consecutive postseason games - the longest streak since UCLA won 28 in a row during the John Wooden era.
Things could be much different this postseason, especially without Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford, Lee Humphrey and Joakim Noah.
Those five helped Florida become the first team to win back-to-back national titles in 15 years and pick up three straight conference tournament rings.
Without them, the Gators have struggled against sizable frontcourt players and looked downright awful when shots don't fall.
``Our past reminds our team how far we've got to go to get better,'' Donovan said. ``If we're throwing all our eggs in and we're going to sell ourselves out just to get to the tournament, I think we're missing the point of where we're trying to get to with this group.
``There's a reason your rearview mirror is a lot smaller than your windshield. You're always looking a little bit behind you, but you've got to keep a perspective of what's out in front of you. ... To me, taking them where I think they can get to someday is a lot bigger than just getting our name called on Sunday.''
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