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Monday November 19, 2012Emphasis on Defense Paying Early Dividends for Gators as Savannah State Comes to the O'Dome

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In losing Bradley Beal and Erving Walker off last year's squad, Florida coach Billy Donovan had to replace the third pick in the NBA draft and the school's No. 4 all-time scorer and No. 1 all-time assist leader.

Donovan and his staff had to figure out where to make up for their scoring.

The solution may be as simple as allowing opponents to score less.

"Obviously, we had a lot of players coming back from last year and an emphasis I wanted was to be a better defensive team," Donovan said Monday. "I think that was a focus for us going into the season and so far our guys have done a very good job."

It's early, but the seventh-ranked Gators (3-0) will head into Tuesday night's home date against Savannah State (3-2) allowing just 45.3 points per game, good enough for the third-best scoring defense in the nation. UF is surrendering just 29.7 percent shooting from the floor (also No. 3 in the county) and 24.1 from the 3-point line.

[Note: Throw in the 10-for-28 effort UF threw at Big East foe Georgetown in the battleship game cancelled at halftime -- when the Hoyas also went just 3-for-13 from the arc -- and those numbers show 30.7 and 23.8 for UF's 3 1/2 games]

The Gators are guarding.

"That's been our main focus," forward Erik Murphy said.

That wasn't so much the case last season. 

In 2011-12, UF ranked tied for seventh in the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense, allowing 55.5 points per game, and ninth in field-goal percentage defense as teams shot 42.6 percent.

What really alarmed Donovan was the 39.7 percent SEC teams hit from the 3-point line against the Gators in conference games.

"We were up and down last season," Murphy said. "That's something we've really tried to fix, just looking for more consistency."

So far this season, Florida is challenging shots in the halfcourt, fighting through screens and really making pronounced efforts to close out against shooters at the 3-point line.

"I think it's been something our guys have been conscientious about," Donovan said.

He also likes that this collective effort has come against a variety of styles of play -- Georgetown's Princeton offense; Wisconsin's swing-it scheme; Middle Tennessee State's aggressive, grinding halfcourt warfare -- and the numbers have kept a similar baseline.

Now, Donovan wants to see more of the same Tuesday against a Savannah State team coming to town for a quick, one-day-of-preparation turnaround.

"It's about being locked in mentally and on edge every day in practice," Murphy said. "That's how you make a habit out of it and carry it over into the games."

No. 7 Florida vs. Savannah State 

Tip-off: Tuesday, 7 p.m. (O'Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.)
Records: Florida 3-0; Savannah State 3-2
TV: Sun Sports (w/Larry Vettel and Bill Koss)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) / Sirius 134/XM 199
Game notes: Florida notes 

Need to know: The Gators jumped three spots to No. 7 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll after two nice wins over Wisconsin and Middle Tennessee State last week. ... Enter a date against the Tigers, out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Gators are 23-0 vs. teams from the MEAC, including 1-0 against Savannah State, a 113-67 win on Jan. 18, 2006 on the way to the first NCAA title in program history. ... The last game against a MEAC team, by the way, was UF's 84-50 blowout of league tournament champ Norfolk State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last March 18. Savannah State went 21-12 last year and return every player from a team that won the regular-season MEAC crown. ... Look for the Gators to start the same lineup as the previous 3 1/2 games, even with the impressive debut -- and return from 3-game suspension -- by junior PG Scottie Wilbekin (8 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) in the MTSU win Sunday at Tampa. ... Senior G Kenny Boynton (17.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) scored 18 points in the second half against the Blue Raiders to finish with 20 points and move to No. 6 on the UF all-time scoring list with 1,641 points. He'll remain at point guard, but swing to his natural shooting spot when Wilbekin checks in. ... Junior Will Yeguete has been a unique force rotating between the small and power forward spots, averaging 7.7 points and a team-best 9.3 rebounds. ... F Erik Murphy (15 ppg) and G Mike Rosario (12.7 ppg) gives the Gators three starters in double-figures. ... As a team, Florida is shooting 51.4 percent overall and 36.8 from the 3-point line. ... The Tigers are led by 6-7, 215-pound F Rashad Hassan (16 ppg, 4 rpg) and G Preston Blackman (10.2 ppg). ... Savannah State had a close 3-point loss Friday against Middle Tennessee State and another 3-point defeat Sunday against UCF, which Florida plays Friday. ... The Tigers are limiting opponents to 38.9 shooting. ... Savannah is coached by Horace Broadnax, the Plant City, Fla., native who was a key reserve for Georgetown's NCAA title team in '84 and actually worked as UF's video coordinator under Lon Kruger in the 1994-95 season.


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