Hot-shooting Erik Murphy leads Gators past LSU, into SEC semifinals

Florida forward/center Erik Murphy (33) works against the LSU during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference tournament, Friday, March 15, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

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Florida forward/center Erik Murphy (33) works against the LSU during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference tournament, Friday, March 15, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Early in Florida’s game against LSU, Gators forward Erik Murphy let out an uncharacteristic, “Wooooo,” that echoed through Bridgestone Arena after he nailed his third 3-pointer.

Normally, one of the most deadpan players on the team, Murphy showed up to the SEC tournament with a fire that coach Billy Donovan had desperately hoped to see and led No. 13 Florida to an 80-58 win in its first game. The top-seeded Gators advanced to face fourth-seeded Alabama in Saturday’s semifinal (1 p.m., ABC).

Murphy, playing through pain in his right knee, carried UF early and delivered the best game of his UF career with 27 points and 12 points in just 25 minutes. He hit 11 of 15 shots, including 5 of 7 3-pointers, and the Gators had a 30-point lead when he exited.

He offered little enthusiasm afterward, saying mainly, “Shots were falling and I felt good,” but his teammates credited him for fighting through the injury and charging them up.

“He responded well and played as tough as you could’ve wanted,” guard Kenny Boynton said. “He’s been a go-to scorer all season for us. He’s done a great job knocking down open shots and creating shots off the dribble. He showed his all-around game today.”

Murphy planted uncomfortably on his knee during Wednesday’s practice, but the MRI revealed no significant problems. He wore a bulky brace on it during Friday’s game.

“I wanted to be cautious coming into the tournament, but it’s fine,” he said.

This could be the moment that gets Florida (25-6) rolling again after slumping through the final six games of the regular season at 3-3. The Gators shot 50.9 percent from the field — even with Boynton and Mike Rosario combining to go 3-for-14 — and outrebounded LSU 47-27. They held the Tigers (19-12) 25.9 percent shooting in the second half and 33.3 percent overall.

The Tigers stayed with Florida early, trailing by one with 8:56 left in the first half. The Gators broke away with a 25-9 going into halftime, capped by Michael Frazier’s three-pointer at the buzzer.

UF followed by outscoring the Tigers 17-6 in the first seven minutes of the second half to lead 60-34. The overall dominance was reminiscent of how the Gators played earlier in the season, when they won 12 of their first 19 games by at least 20 points.

“It was definitely a step in the right direction,” center Patric Young said. “Hopefully we can build on that and do an even better job the next game.”

UF guard Scottie Wilbekin scored 16 points, his most in a game since January, on 6-for-8 shooting and had three assists. Young had 10 points and six rebounds, while Frazier added 11 and five.

Boynton managed just two points, but had seven assists and was strong defensively.

Charles Carmouche led LSU with 14 points and was his team’s only player to score more than eight.

No Gator played more than 27 minutes, which should help Florida stay fresh for the possibility of playing three games in three days. If UF gets past the Crimson Tide, it will play in the championship game Sunday (1 p.m., ABC).

Alabama reached the semifinals by beating Tennessee 58-48 after the Gators’ game. The Crimson Tide appears to be barely outside the NCAA tournament field at this point and could break into it by beating Florida.

The upset hopes are reasonable. When the teams played in Gainesville two weeks ago, Alabama led the Gators by eight with 11:04 remaining, but Florida closed with a 27-7 run to win 64-52.