Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If Florida played defense in the first half against UCF like it did in the second half, it could have put a different twist to the term "Black Friday."
Good thing for the seventh-ranked Gators they built a nice cushion on the undermanned yet overachieving cross-state rival Knights and eventually pulled away for a 79-66 before a Friday afternoon crowd of 10,195 at the O'Connell Center.
"We didn't guard anybody in the second half," Coach Billy Donovan said.
No one in the UF locker room was arguing. Not after UCF cut an 18-point lead to seven by scoring the first 11 points after the break on the way to shooting 57.1 percent overall, including 80 percent (8-for-10) from the 3-point line.
"Some nights, if we don't come out with better defensive intensity, we may not be able to fight that off," senior guard Kenny Boynton said. "Luckily, we did tonight."
Boynton bounced back in a big way from the sprained left ankle suffered in Tuesday night's win over Savannah State by scoring a season-high 24 points to go with eight rebounds. Junior guard Scottie Wilbekin came off the bench to pitch in 17 points, eight assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes, with all those numbers personal bests.
Junior center Patric Young had 10 points and five rebounds, while reserve forward Casey Prather, who missed the first four games recovering from a concussion, made his season debut with eight points and four rebounds.
Some good digits, yes, but the ones in the box score that stood out to Donovan were the ones that dotted the the columns for the Knights (3-2), who had three starters play at least 38 minutes (including all 40 for forward Keith Clanton), with a fourth logging 34.
Forward Kasey Wilson played the fewest minutes of the UCF starters with 29, but had enough in the tank to make five of six 3-point shots for 20 points, with four of his treys after intermission.
All this against a UF defense that had been spectacular through the first four games (along with that disappearing half against Georgetown, too). The Gators started the day having allowed just 30.8 percent shooting overall and 25.9 from 3-point range.
Donovan wasn't talking about his bench outscoring UCF's 28-0. For him, it was shades of last season when UF had the worst 3-point defense in Southeastern Conference play.
"We've tried to make a focus on it, and they've done a good job," Donovan said. "But I can start to see, even in practice, some slippage. There needs to be a constant rehearsal and commitment to that every single day."
There wasn't Friday.
Four of UCF's first five field goals in the second half were bombs. The Gators answered the rally, though, with a few long shots of their own -- one from Boynton, one from Erik Murphy (9 points, 4 rebounds) -- but UF also went back inside to build back the lead. Florida outscored UCF 38-18 in the paint and 21-1 with second-chance points, out-banging the 19-5 on the offensive glass.
Both Boynton and Wilbekin were 4-for-9 from the arc, as the Knights repeatedly went under screens (rather than over) and the Gators made them pay. The accuracy was especially encouraging for Wilbekin, a vastly underrated shooter, in just his third game since returning from a three-game suspension to start the season for violating team rules.
"Coach told me not to be passive," Wilbekin said. "He wanted me to come off screens and shoot it."
Wilbekin took 76 shots in 37 games last season. Thus far, he has 22 in three games after attempting a career-high 12 on Friday.
"I think his first two years he had not tried to score. He's been more of a facilitator, more of a guy who;s been a lockdown defender," Donovan said. "But I do think Scottie is a guy you're going to have to respect offensively because he can make shots when he's left open."
Wilbekin scored 13 before halftime, so he was mostly that facilitator in the second half, as Florida eventually built a 21-point lead with just under five minutes to go before UCF made a late surge.
It wasn't anywhere near enough for visions of another UCF upset -- ala the 57-54 shocker in Orlando early in Florida's 2010-11 Southeastern Conference championship season -- to start dancing in anyone's heads.
"Billy has a team that can make a deep run into the tournament," said Knights coach Donnie Jones, who served as an assistant for Donovan for 13 seasons (two at Marshall, 11 at UF). "He has so many weapons you have to match up with."
But Donovan left the building locked in on the weapons that weren't matching up on the defensive side.
Here's betting it comes up in practice Saturday.