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Wednesday January 9, 2013Gators Open SEC Play With Rout of Georgia

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If Will Muschamp had been coaching the Florida basketball team, no doubt a certain phrase would have been invoked Wednesday night.

Man down, man up.

With two key frontcourt players aching with nagging injuries, the 11th-ranked Gators turned to their fifth starting combination of the season and promptly christened the Southeastern Conference schedule with a wire-to-wire 77-44 thrashing of Georgia before a season-high crowd of 11,366 at the O’Connell Center.

Senior guard Mike Rosario led all scorers with 19 points, with three other Gators pitching in for double-figures, including junior Casey Prather, who had 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting, seven rebounds, three steals and scored the first six points of the game in his first start in nearly two years.

“We know we have some guys who are hurting or not feeling that great right now,” said Rosario, who went 6-for-10 from the floor and 3-for-6 from 3-point range. “It says a lot about our depth and how focused we are.”

The Gators (11-2, 1-0), in winning their third straight, jumped on the Bulldogs (6-8, 0-1) for the game’s first 11 points, shot 52 percent for the night, buried 12 shots from the 3-point line and raced to 27 points off 19 Georgia turnovers.

Senior forward Erik Murphy, who missed Sunday’s game at Yale with a broken rib, came off the bench to score 11 points, making 3-for-6 from the arc, and generally moved around pretty well in his 21 minutes. Junior forward Will Yeguete, with tendinitis flaring up in his right knee the last couple days, did not score and grabbed only one rebound but managed to stay on the floor for 14 minutes.

Frankly, the Gators may not have needed that long.

Not that they won’t in the coming weeks, though.

“I’m concerned,” said UF coach Billy Donovan, who’s never lost a conference home opener (7-0) in his 17 seasons. “There is no off week in the SEC, we’re going to play a lot of games and we are somewhat banged up. We have to get back healthy.”

In the meantime, Florida at less than full strength and playing before the best home crowd of the season was more than enough against Georgia, which finished tied for next-to-last in the league last season was down a starting forward (Donte Williams) and backup guard (Kenny Gaines), also.

“Florida just overwhelmed us,” Bulldogs coach Mark Fox said.

The Gators wasted no time rolling out the full-court pressure defense, forcing the Bulldogs into four turnovers -- and two timeouts, unable to get across halfcourt -- before the game was four minutes old.

When Georgia finally did solve the UF press, the goal was to milk the clock with long possessions, thus decreasing the scoring opportunities for the Gators. The tradeoff for trailing by just 13 at halftime, however, was the Bulldogs had just 15 points at the break, with more than twice as many turnovers (11) and field goals (5).

“I think we really focused on guarding and playing good help-side defense,” Prather said. “We were prepared and ready for what they were going to run.”

On defense, UF junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was in the jersey of Georgia forward Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, an NBA prospect who came in ranked fourth in the SEC in scoring at 17.5 points per game. Caldwell-Pope finished with 11 points, tying his season low.

“I thought our defensive effort was very, very good,” Donovan said.

The offensive effort went next level early in the second half.

A slam-dunk to start the second from center Patric Young, who made all five of his field goals, kicked in a 10-4 run out of the locker room. At the 16-minute mark, Wilbekin (8 points, 6 assists, 2 steals) hit a 3-point shot to open a 20-point lead.

That trey started a wave of five straight possessions that ended in 3-pointers for the Gators, the other bombs courtesy of freshman Michael Frazier II (2), Rosario and Murphy.

After Frazier’s second, Florida had doubled Georgia, 53-26, with just over 12 minutes to go.

“Our whole team has confidence in everyone,” Murphy said. “When guys step up and play like they did tonight, it doesn’t surprise us.”

And it makes the head coach happy.

“I think we’re moving the ball, passing it and trying to play the right way,” said Donovan, who uttered almost those exact same words Sunday after winning on the road at Yale. “I thought we were relatively balanced.”

Relatively dominant, too.

 

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