Updated at: 03/15/2013 5:09 PM
By TERESA M. WALKER
(AP) NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The 13th-ranked Florida Gators thought they finally had gotten healthy again when Erik Murphy felt a sharp pain in his knee during a non-contact pick-and-roll drill in practice. He hurt enough that trainers checked him with an MRI, iced him up and got him a sleeve to wear over his knee.
Well, Murphy is a very quick healer.
Murphy scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed a career-best 12 rebounds Friday helping the Gators take the first step toward trying to add a Southeastern Conference tournament title to their regular season championship by beating LSU 80-58.
"At the time, they were concerned," Florida coach Billy Donovan said of the injury in Wednesday’s practice. "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, I think we felt like he was going to be able to play with no problem."
Murphy hurt the Tigers both inside and out as he hit 11 of 15 shots, including five 3-pointers that matched his career high in that category.
"Shots were falling today, so it always feels good," Murphy said.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive presented Donovan with the regular season trophy before tipoff. Then the Gators (25-6) started working toward their first tournament title since 2007 when they wrapped up a three-peat. They will play Alabama, a 58-48 winner over Tennessee, the semifinals Saturday.
"Obviously, we want to win the tournament here, but we have to take it one game at a time," Murphy said.
Scottie Wilbekin added 16 points, matching his career-best with four 3-pointers. Michael Frazier II had 11 and Patric Young 10 for Florida.
Ninth-seeded LSU (19-12) tried to keep up with the rested Gators but looked a step slow with too many shots just short a day after beating Georgia to advance. Charles Carmouche led the Tigers with 14 points. LSU coach Johnny Jones said his Tigers weren’t hitting on all cylinders.
"Florida did exactly what they needed to do and the type of team that they are, I think you have to be at your best," LSU coach Johnny Jones said. "And we weren’t there today."
Florida dominated LSU with a 47-27 edge on the boards and easily outshot the Tigers as the Gators hit better from 3-point range (11 of 20, 55 percent) than they did overall (29 of 57, 50.9 percent) or at the line (11 of 22). LSU shot 33.3 percent (18 of 54).
The Gators missed their last 11 shots in losing at Kentucky to wrap up the regular season for their third straight road loss in SEC play. It’s why Donovan put them through some challenging practices before the tournament, and they are healthy enough that he wound up playing 11 of his 12 Gators at least four minutes in the rout.
"Overall, I was pleased with the way our team played really from start to finish," Donovan said. "I thought it was a very good game by them."
They had no problems against LSU, not with Murphy scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the first 22 minutes. They led 43-28 at halftime and pushed that lead to as much as 35 when Murphy scored seven straight points, the last with 8:41 left for a 73-38 lead.
Murphy got Florida going as he scored in the opening minute, and the Gators hit five of their first eight shots. They did just about everything they wanted whether it was driving to the basket or hitting from outside. Even when they did miss, they usually got the rebound for second and third chances.
LSU led twice, the last at 5-4 on a layup by Johnny O’Bryant III. Rosario answered with a layup with 18:02 to go putting the Gators ahead to stay at 6-5. Murphy followed with his own layup and then a 3-pointer. The Tigers stayed close with Carmouche hitting his first three shots all behind the arc, the third coming midway through the half to pull LSU within 18-17.
Wilbekin hit a jumper, then stole the ball feeding Frazier for a bucket. Wilbekin then capped a 9-0 spurt with a 3 pushing Florida’s lead to double digits. With O’Bryant going 1 of 5 in the half, the Tigers struggled to score inside and settled for too many jumpers. O’Bryant finished with eight points.
The final seconds summed up the first half. The Tigers dribbled looking for a final shot that Hickey bounced off the rim, then Frazier beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer giving the Gators a 43-28 lead.
"A big boost for them going into halftime," Carmouche said. "I don’t think that one shot caused the tempo of the game. I mean they came out and played from the beginning to the end. You got to give them credit. They just played their best basketball today."
In the second half, the Gators even worked out the final kink in their game hitting their first four free throws as the nation’s top team in scoring margin just kept pushing the lead bigger. LSU managed a quick late flurry whittling down the final score but never got closer than 22 in the final minute.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)