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Saturday February 23, 2013Gators Pound it Into Paint in Rebound Victory Over Arkansas

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The edict from the coach was clear.

Get. The. Ball. In. The. Paint.

The edict was obeyed.

The version of the Florida Gators that bombed away -- and ultimately bombed -- in Missouri four days earlier was transformed into a driving and dumping-inside team that wore down the Arkansas Razorbacks in a 71-54 victory before a Saturday night sold-out O’Connell Center crowd of 12,609.

The final stat sheet scored four UF players scoring in double figures, led by senior guard Mike Rosario’s 15 points, but the numbers that jumped off the page at Coach Billy Donovan and his players were his team’s 42-18 advantage on points in the paint.

“That’s what we need,” junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “When we do that, we always play good.”

With the victory, the Gators (22-4, 12-2) moved back into a two-game lead for first place in the Southeastern Conference, thank to Alabama’s triple-overtime defeat at LSU and also remained unbeaten at home in 13 games.

But it also came at a price.

Freshman guard Michael Frazier, the team’s leading 3-point shooter, left the game with a concussion following a collision midway through the second half and definitely will miss UF’s game Tuesday at Tennessee, winners of five straight.

“I don’t know when he’ll be back,” Donovan said.

Good thing, then, the Gators got a head start on jamming the ball inside. They’ll have to do more of the game in the upcoming games, sans Frazier.

Even with him.

Junior center Patric Young, who combined for seven points the previous two games, scored 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the floor, while senior forward Erik Murphy flashed his normal 3-point prowess with a pair from distance, but also went to the basket to finish with 12 points and six rebounds. Backup forward Casey Prather had eight points and a career-high nine rebounds, including three on the offensive end.

Even senior guard Kenny Boynton, he of the no-conscience ways behind the arc, got half of his 12 points on drives down the lane.

“We tried to learn from the Missouri game,” Donovan said.

The Gators attempted 63 3-point shots the previous two games -- making a bunch at Auburn (win) a week earlier, then missing a bunch at Mizzou (loss) -- but did some refining and reinventing in the practices leading up to the rematch with the Razorbacks (17-10, 8-6), who handed UF its most lopsided defeat of the season earlier this month and made a point to remind the Gators about it.

As much as some of UF players wanted to exact revenge, it was more critical for the Gators to find a better balance on offense. In doing so -- 21 of their 29 field goals were of the two-point variety -- Florida managed to do both.

“We wanted to let them know we’re a better team,” Murphy said. “That first game at their place, they came out on fire and we weren’t ready for it. That’s not us. That didn’t show us as a team. Today did.”

Added Wilbekin: “We should’ve beat ‘em by 30.”

That would have been a tall order, considering UF led just 32-28 at halftime.

The Gators opened the second half on an 11-1 run, with Young scoring twice from point-blank range, including a slam-dunk after a Rosario shot rimmed out. Little by little, UF built on the margin and did so by testing the Hogs inside. Of Florida’s 16 second-half field goals, 12 were 2-pointers.

Meanwhile, Arkansas was the team jacking the 3s on the way to making just six of 27 (22.2 percent) and to hitting only 36.2 percent for the game.

“Against a team like Florida, you’ve got to be able to attack,” Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson said. “When you don’t make shots, you see the result.”

The Gators, meanwhile, went right at the Hogs.

And they saw the results.

“When people think points in the paint, usually they think throwing the ball into the post,” Donovan said. “But there’s also attacking [the paint].”

The Gators did it so much, they actually missed a handful of layups. But that was a good sign because they were getting where they wanted (and needed) to go.

“I think we need to keep it up,” Boynton said.

For a team that gets so 3-point happy at times, that will take some discipline. But the Gators now have precedent from which to draw on.

Winning precedent.


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