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Wednesday November 13, 2013Badgers Hold Off Undermanned Gators 59-53

Photo by David Stluka

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

MADISON, Wis. -- Patric Young was given an easy out.

The 10th-ranked Florida Gators, their roster depleted by the suspension of three players, finished on the short side Tuesday night of a 59-53 score against 20th-ranked Wisconsin at the sold-out Kohl Center. UF started fast, only to see the Badgers heat up and take control late in the first half and eventually hold the Gators off down the stretch.

Given the circumstances -- and the venue -- Young and his teammates surely could take some solace in the showing they made while their best player, senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, along with forward Dorian Finney-Smith and center Damontre Harris were back in Gainesville serving indefinite suspensions.

“No,” Young shot back. “We let this game slip away. We had an opportunity to win this game. Of course, it would have helped having those guys. but I think the guys we lined up with were capable of coming away with a win.”

Michael Frazier II, after leading all scorers with 20 points, felt exactly the same way.

“No moral victories here,” he said. “We didn’t come up with the win. That was our only goal. The guys we had out there, we were fully capable of winning.”

Wisconsin got 16 points from forward Sam Dekker and 13 from guard Traveon Jackson, including a key field goal with seven seconds to play and the shot clock winding down to seal the win. The Badgers (2-0) hurt the Gators (1-1) with nine baskets from beyond the 3-point line and held UF to just 40.4 percent from the floor.

Coach Billy Donovan ripped his team after a lackluster win over North Florida in its opener four days earlier. So after watching another team get some good looks from the arc and use a 13-0 run in the first-half to seize command, he obviously was going to side with his players regarding any silver lining, right?

He smiled.

“I think we got better tonight,” Donovan said. “We made some strides.”

More strides, many more, will be made and need to be made. The anticipated return of Wilbekin, Finney-Smith and Harris -- whenever that may be -- will provide an instant jolt to the overall depth, offensive firepower and options on the defensive end of the floor.

In the interim, however, the Gators need to make due with their current makeup, which is a team being run by a freshman point guard who struggled mightily at times against UW, a lack of outside shooting after Frazier, and front-court guys playing too many minutes.

Donovan liked how his team moved and shared the ball and appreciated the fight they put up when the Badgers, who’ve now won 91 percent of their games at Kohl since Coach Bo Ryan arrived 12 years ago, could have run the visitors out of the building.

The game marked the first time since 1968 the Badgers played a ranked opponent in their home opener. The place was rocking.

“Playing in this environment really helped our team,” Donovan said. 

When Wisconsin built its lead to 11 with less than 12 minutes to go, the Gators pressed on and slowly whittled the margin down to three on two occasions.

But 7-foot center Frank Kaminski’’s 3-pointer was the Badgers‘ first answer at the 4-minute mark, stretching the lead back to six. Jackson’s jumper in the lane over walk-on forward Jake Kurtz with eight seconds to go was the other.

“There were some things that happened that had nothing to do with Scottie and those guys being out,” Donovan said. “We missed some easy shots. We let them come down with some offensive rebounds, gave up a 3 here and there. Before we knew it, we were down 10.”

Kasey Hill, the rookie playmaker, got a baptism of sorts in his first college basketball on the road. He finished 2-for-11 from the floor, missed a couple layups and all four of his 3-point shots, and finished with four points, two assists and two turnovers before fouling out with 3:25 to go.

“I thought his lack of putting the ball in the basket really impacted him on the defensive end of the floor, being a young guy and all,” Donovan said. “He was visibly disappointed, upset, bothered. That led to some of his foul trouble. He has to be able to move to the next play.”

True because there’s no other true point guard to throw out there in his place. Yet.

And not a lot of scorers to shuffle in and out, either. The lack of scoring punch, specifically 3-point shooting, proved the difference in the game.

Frazier went 7-for-11 from the floor and 5-for-7 from the 3-point line, though Donovan made a point to note Frazier may have surrendered as many points on defense as he scored. Meanwhile, the rest of the Gators were 12-for-36 from the floor and 0-for-7 from the arc. Forward Casey Prather (12 points, 5 rebounds) and Young (8 points, 6 rebounds) rimmed out some shots from in close, too.

Still, UF had its chances down the stretch. The Gators also got a glimpse early on of how good they can, jumping to leads of 16-4 and 24-16 before the Badgers began their charge.

“The first eight minutes of the game, we were playing great,” Young said. “I don’t know. I guess we lost focus on what was helping us and we let them play the way they wanted to.”

In time, Florida will have the guys to play the way it wants to. Until then, all the Gators can do is try to play the right way and see what that gets them.

Their coach thinks they got better in defeat Tuesday. And he’s fine they’re not happy about it. 

 

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