GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Freshman Kasey Hill suffered a groin injury in the first half of Saturday night’s big win at Kentucky. The Florida backup point guard returned to the court in the second half and actually logged four minutes before checking out of the game for good.
Hill did not practice Monday and is expected to be sidelined when the Gators (23-2, 12-0), up to No. 2 in the polls and winners of a school record-tying 17 straight games, are home to the Auburn Tigers (12-11, 4-8) Wednesday night at the O’Connell Center.
Without Hill, UF does not have a true backup point guard behind red-hot senior Scottie Wilbekin, who right now is playing at a level commensurate to the best at his position in the country. He’s also averaging nearly 34 minutes per game in Southeastern Conference play.
So he’s going to need some rest against the Tigers.
That means the Gators will return to the scramble-mode point guard plan they implemented early in the season when Wilbekin was unavailable.
“We’ll probably look at the three guys by committee,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.
When Wilbekin takes a seat look for shooting guards Michael Frazier and DeVon Walker to take some possessions on the ball, along with versatile frontcourt man Dorian Finney-Smith.
“We probably won’t run as many set plays, do more basic stuff, but it won’t be that different,” Wilbekin said of his anticipated time off the floor. “It’s about making the easy play and getting us into the offense. I’m really not worried about it.”
That’s because there’s precedent.
Wilbekin began the season suspended for the first five regular season games, leaving Hill, the McDonald's All-America rookie, to run the UF offense until his return. But Hill suffered a high ankle sprain Nov. 17 against Southern -- he was out for four games -- leaving the Gators to do some shell-gaming at the point position.
With Frazier, Walker and Finney-Smith taking turns, the Gators defeated Middle Tennessee State 79-59. UF only had 10 assists that game, but its offensive efficiency rating (OER) checked in at 1.23 points per possession, above the goal of 1.20.
Walker, the sophomore from Winter Haven, Fla., had the best game as a Gator that night, finishing with a career-best 10 points and no turnovers in 32 minutes, also a career high.
“The system really runs itself, so it’s not like, ‘Who, I gotta play point guard this game.’ You just have to get the offense to the flow,” Walker said after practice Monday. “But I’ve got the support of all these guys, so I’m good whatever happens.”
Frazier is known for his shooting touch, but he’s capable of taking a few turns on the ball. So is Finney-Smith, who actually plays more center and power forward than any perimeter position.
Finney-Smith was serviceable at the point against MTSU, but a couple weeks later he was forced back to the spot when Wilbekin, in his third game back, rolled his ankle with three minutes to play at Connecticut and UF in a dogfight with the Huskies.
When Wilbekin hobbled to the locker room, Finney-Smith went to the “1” position and the Gators scored -- get this -- nine points over the final possessions of the game, a OER of 2.25 (more than a point higher than the standard). UF executed its offense to get Frazier a layup with 18 seconds to go, only to lose the game on Shabazz Napier's shot at the buzzer.
Finney-Smith wasn’t the catalyst behind that four-possession windfall of points. He just stepped in, did his job efficiently and let the offense work.
“It’s a little different than I’m used to, and what we’re used, but you can’t use it an excuse when have a player banged up.,” Finney-Smith said. “We all just have to know everyone on the team has to step up with ‘Little Kasey’ out.”
[Note: As opposed to “Big Casey,” as in Prather, who is just fine]
“Little Kasey” spent Monday receiving treatment from the trainers, then took his turn in the empty women’s gym shooting free throws.
Back in the other gym, the Gators had a very focused practice.
Getting his team’s attention was something of a concern at the start of the day, given that two of UF’s toughest practice during the regular season were the first ones after arguably the two biggest wins of the season (before the one at Rupp).
Kansas and Arkansas.
Donovan spent his team in those workouts to get their attention, which they apparently learned from. The Gators reported for work Monday locked in and loaded to get after it from the start.
It was another sign of a mature, experienced team.
Add it to the list.