Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- That it was undermanned Mississippi State in the house did not matter. For the Florida Gators, this one was about putting Arkansas in their rearview, moving on without Will Yeguete and recapturing the chemistry of the Southeastern Conference season's first four weeks.
The second-ranked (for now) Gators did just that Saturday, placing five players in double-figure scoring and crushing the Bulldogs (and their six scholarship players) 83-58 in front of a sold-out O'Connell Center crowd of 12,444.
Just in time for Kentucky, now just a game back in the SEC race, to come to town Tuesday.
"Every win is a good win," senior guard Kenny Boynton said. "But we're still working to get back."
Senior guard Mike Rosario scored 18 points and senior forward Erik Murphy threw in 17 more, with both players going 7-for-10 from the floor. Freshman guard Michael Frazier hit his first three 3-point attempts in his first career start en route to 11 points, with Casey Prather hopping off the bench to score 12 and grab five rebounds.
All told, it was exactly the game the Gators (19-3, 9-1) needed coming off Tuesday night's humbling loss at Arkansas that snapped a 10-game winning streak. Florida lost its offensive cohesion in Fayetteville and seemingly forgot about the great defense it had played all season, so they needed a refresher course. The Bulldogs (7-15, 2-9), at the bottom of the league standings, just happened to be in the way.
"I think our guys understood we needed to come out and play better and play like we're capable," said UF coach Billy Donovan, who purposely put his team on edge in the absence of Yeguete, the defensive specialist who will miss 4-6 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery Friday. "We're down a guy and a good defender and a good player and we really had to step up and be ready."
To further focus his team, Donovan benched junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin from the starting lineup. Wilbekin, the coach believed, let himself get away from smoothly running the UF offense against the Razorbacks and actually had taken 30 shots the last two games.
That's not his game.
When Wilbekin did not answer Donovan's challenges at practice both Thursday and Friday, the move was made to Frazier.
"Coach thought I needed a wake-up call," Wilbekin said. "This was his way of giving it to me."
Wilbekin was only on the bench for two minutes, 39 seconds, though, and when he got in the game he got the Gators moving.
With Frazier's help.
Mississippi State led 5-4 when Rosario hit a 3-pointer. Then Frazier hit three straight long-range bombs to kick in a 21-5 run that broke the game open, with the Gators rolling to a 42-26 halftime lead, thanks to 55-percent shooting, and never looking back.
"My job is to provide energy to this team, however I can do that," Frazier said. "I did it tonight by making shots and my teammates did a great job of finding me."
The Gators, collectively, did a great job of finding everyone. After carding just 15 assists at Arkansas, UF had 21 against the Bulldogs, including seven from Wilbekin (who took just two shots) and six from Boynton, who also scored 10 points.
"When we play like that, it's going to be hard to beat us," Boynton said. "Offensively, when we have it going and have open shots and steals in the press, it's very hard to beat us."
Helping out was a much better performance from Prather, the junior swingman who failed to score, grabbed just two rebounds and had two turnovers in 18 minutes when pressed into duty against Razorbacks for Yeguete.
Against the Bulldogs, Prather hit five of nine shots and grabbed five rebounds in 22 minutes, and sent the third sellout crowd to its feet in the first half with a steal in the press and run-out slam.
"That was a great confidence boost," Prather said.
The whole day was a much-needed one.
For the whole team.
"We got back to playing the right way," Rosario said. "If we keep moving the ball and making the person next to you better, the outcome is going to be good."
In this case, as good as the timing.
With Kentucky coming to town.