Monday November 18, 2013Down Hill Climb: Gators' Win Comes At Costly Price
Florida freshman point guard Kasey Hill is helped off the court Monday night.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- At the 18:06 mark of the second half, the complexion of the University of Florida basketball team changed.
You could see it.
Worse, you could hear it.
When freshman point guard Kasey Hill drove hard to the basket and suddenly spilled to the floor, his shrieks of pain could be heard throughout the O’Connell Center. Hill stayed down for several minutes before being carried to the UF locker room, where doctors ruled the team’s rookie playmaker -- performing at a remarkably high level to date -- had suffered a high-ankle sprain that likely will sideline him a month. Maybe more.
“It’s unfortunate,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said later. “It’s part of the game.”
So is rallying and overcoming adversity, which the 16th-ranked Gators did in finishing off Southern for a 67-53 win before a crowd of 8,002. Now they have to figure out where to go with a roster void of a true point guard, thanks to Hill’s injury and the indefinite suspension to senior Scottie Wilbekin.
“Not having him out there is going to change us,” senior center Patric Young said.
The final 18 minutes without the UF quarterback gave everyone a preview, including the head coach. Donovan saw a somewhat disjointed offense that lacked aggressive guards and a Gators (3-1) team that played a little shellshocked in being outscored by the Jaguars (1-4) by two points in the second half.
Three UF players scored in double-figures, led by Young’s 12 points and six rebounds, and six tallied at least eight points. Senior forward Casey Prather had 10 points and nine rebounds, while sophomore guard DeVon Walker chipped in a career-high 10 points.
The Gators took a 35-19 lead at halftime, thanks in great part to the tempo dictated by Hill, who scored eight points on 4-for-6 shooting, dished three assists, had a steal and no turnovers. In fact, over the previous two games, Hill’s stat line showed nine assists and no giveaways.
“He was playing really well,” Walker said.
Just like that, the ball-handling duties fell to the combination of Walker, Michael Frazier (9 points on 3-for-7 shooting from the arc) and 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith (8 points, 7 rebounds).
None of them handled the transition particularly well.
“That’s going to be an adjustment for us,” Donovan said.
Though Frazier played some point guard when Hill got in foul trouble during last week’s loss at Wisconsin, he’s the best pure shooter on the team, by far. Shooters look to shoot. That’s why he took a quick and open 3-pointer late in the game -- it’s in his DNA -- while playing the point when Donovan wanted to run some clock while Southern was cutting a 22-point lead to 14.
Donovan immediately called a timeout and the R-rated berating he hurled at Frazier reached even more O’Dome ears than Hill’s screams.
“I’ve learned to process what he’s saying, instead of how he’s saying it,” Frazier said. “Sometimes, he can get a little out of whack, but that’s just how he is. I understand that. He doesn’t mean any harm by it.”
There’s going to be more of it, certainly in practice, in the coming days as the Gators look to reinvent themselves -- without Wilbekin, who Donovan has already ruled out -- in time for Thursday night’s date against Middle Tennessee State, a team that won 28 games last season and reached the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ll go with what we've got,” said Donovan, who’s been saying that a lot lately. “We’ll have to do some different things, make some lineup adjustments and changes, protect some guys in foul trouble and probably have multiple guys handle the ball. We’ve got to be able to flow and function on offense.”
And they need to do it fairly quickly.
After MTSU comes a Monday road date at Jacksonville, followed by a four-game gauntlet that starts with a home game against Florida State, then a road game at Connecticut, then home against Kansas and a neutral site game with Memphis at Madison Square Garden.
All inside of month and, therefore, all inside the initial timetable for Hill's return.
“We've got some work to do,” Walker said. “Time to get in the lab.”