Sunday November 11, 2012Upperclassmen Respond in Rout of Alabama State to Officially Open the Season
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Billy Donovan was furious with his starters during Saturday’s practice. He didn’t like their effort, intensity or commitment to defense and rebounding, so he stopped the workout and told the team to come back at 8 p.m. to try again.
Frankly, that practice wasn’t that great either, as Donovan and his assistants pointed out more than once. The coaches couldn’t believe after Friday’s experience on the battleship -- being around all those determined soldiers and that remarkably inspiring environment -- how they could be so flat, especially after playing only half a game. And they couldn't understand how UF's four-man freshmen class, despite their mistakes, out-hustled the older guys.
Then came Sunday’s shoot-around six hours before the season opener against Alabama State.
And the message.
“You get four minutes to show me something,” Donovan told his first five. “If I don’t get what I want, you’re all coming out.”
The 10th-Gators scored the game’s first eight points, allowed just one field goal through the first 16-plus minutes and stomped the outmanned Hornets 84-35 to run away with a “second” season opener before 8,047 at the O’Connell Center.
Senior Kenny Boynton, forced to play point guard with the suspension of Scottie Wilbekin, scored 22 points on 8-for-10 shooting (making all four 3-point attempts) to go with six rebounds and five assists. Senior forward Erik Murphy had 15 points, junior center Patric Young added 12 points and a game-high 12 rebounds for his fifth-career double-double.
While on the subject of those upperclassmen starters: guard Mike Rosario had 14 points and three steals, while Will Yeguete had seven rebounds and five assists.
Meanwhile, those freshmen who wowed the home crowd 10 days ago by scoring 50 of 101 points in a blowout exhibition game, well, they had in a reality check in combining to score 17 points on 6-for-20 shooting, with guard Michael Frazier II going 0-for-6 from the floor.
No, this game -- this day -- was about the veterans and how they would respond to being challenged.
“[The coaches] were mad at us all day [Saturday],” said Boynton, adding the players met in the locker room after the evening practice and vowed to take the court Sunday with more passion and fire. “It was our first game. We needed to come out and provide intensity and get defensive stops.”
“Some days, you come to practice and you won’t be great -- and practice yesterday wasn’t too great,” Murphy said. “Coach knew what he was doing. He always knows what he’s doing. Sure enough, we came out today and sustained a defensive effort.”
Suffice to say, 8 percent shooting (Alabama State went 2-for-25 in the first half) would qualify as a "sustained defensive effort" -- even if the Hornets (0-2) did manage to make 10 of its 31 shots after intermission (32.3 percent).
It wasn’t good enough to erase the 47-9 deficit, though. Florida shot 60 percent in the first half, won the glass 50-30 and took 30 free throws.
The nine first-half points by the Hornets were the fewest scored in a half by a UF opponents since the NCAA implemented its shot clock for the 1984-85 season.
“I think it kind of speaks for itself,” Alabama State coach Lewis Jackson said. “With the energy they brought defensively, it kind of took us out of everything we wanted to do.”
With the Gators challenging every shot, the Hornets turned the ball over 19 times, did not hit their 20th point until 6:24 remained in the game and trailed as many as 57 points in the second half.
Message sent, message received.
“I really understand what Coach Donovan does,” Young said. “He’s trying to motivate us psychologically. You may want to think, ‘This guy is not going to take my spot,’ so it gets you to play harder. We all came out with great energy, great focus and got the job done.”
Donovan saw the Gators exhibit all those traits in Friday night’s one half against Georgetown, before the game on the USS Bataan was canceled at halftime due to condensation on the floor.
When he didn’t see it at practice yesterday, he demanded to see it Sunday.
“If you love basketball, it shouldn’t matter who you’re playing; it should matter that you’re playing,” Donovan said. “It’s very, very easy to get jacked up on a ship with 3,000 sailors and national TV. The circumstances and surroundings have an impact on your emotions. You’ve got to have a competitive maturity to move from one game to the next.”
Next up: No. 23 Wisconsin at home Wednesday night.
The Badgers should have UF's attention; for the game and the practices before.
“This was a good game to get everyone in and get a feel for the game,” Boynton said. “And we’ll be ready for the next one.”
Notes: Donovan announced Wilbekin's suspension will most likely continue through the Wisconsin game. "There's still information I have to gather, but as of right now I am not playing him against Wisconsin unless some things I'm able to find out this week change," he said. "Right now, as of today, he will not play against Wisconsin." Wilbekin, who was expected to take over the starting point guard spot vacated by three-year starter Erving Walker, is not allowed to practice or participate in team-related activities while serving his suspension. "He's still part of our team and our family, but as it relates to having him around I just don't think it's good while we're trying to get prepared on a one-game prep." ... Junior F Casey Prather may be sidelined longer, according to Donovan. Prather is still dealing with concussion symptoms (such as headaches) since taking an elbow to the head in practice last Monday and suffering a second concussion in nine days and did not play in the exhibition game, Florida’s unfinished game with Georgetown or today. "This is going to be a process," Donovan said. ... UF has now won 22 straight opening games, while Donovan is 17-0 in openers as Florida's coach. ... When Boynton hit a 3-pointer at the end of the first half, he became the eighth Gator in school history to reach the 1,600-point threshold. He now has 1,611 points, which nudged him past Neal Walk (1,600 from 1967-69) into seventh place all-time.