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Tuesday January 7, 2014Getting the Point: Wilbekin in Donovan's Crosshairs Over Ball Movement

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The lead and tempo that favored his team were gone and Billy Donovan was fuming as he looked at the Florida stat sheet during halftime of Saturday’s home game against the Richmond.

Two categories jumped out at him.

Assists: 4
Turnovers: 6

The ball wasn’t moving to Donovan’s liking, not even close, and someone needed to answer for it. That’s when the UF coach lit up senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin like a bonfire.

“He told me I needed to be more like a point guard and get more guys involved,” said Wilbekin, who went 1-for-9 from the floor in the first half with one measly assist as the Gators clung to a two-point lead. “The offense was getting stagnant and that falls on me. He wanted better ball movement.”

Hardly an unreasonable request. And surely it was delivered politely?

“Uh ... no,” Wilbekin said.

Quite the opposite, actually.

“I think Coach D caught Scottie off guard,” sophomore shooter Michael Frazier said. “He came after him pretty good.”

The Gators (and Wilbekin) weathered Richmond, but the takeaway from that game was a need for more passing and better overall flow to the offense, two elements of the game that officially become all the more critical Wednesday night when 10th-ranked Florida (11-2) opens Southeastern Conference play against South Carolina (7-6) at the O’Connell Center.

In the aftermath of that last outing, a 67-58 win over the Spiders, Donovan compared his offense to horses running on a track with blinders. Why not? UF carded only 10 assists in the game, so clearly (make that unclearly) there was some peripheral vision lacking.

“They drive the ball and there are guys standing wide open and they do not see them,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a malicious thing, like, ‘I’m not passing you the ball.’ They’re very unselfish. But there are times when I say, ‘What are you looking at right now?’ ”

That likely came up Saturday with Wilbekin, who is charged with making the Florida offense look good. So far, the Gators have looked decent at times, but mostly “just OK,” as Donovan likes to say, and downright sluggish at others.

UF’s 12.2 assists per game rank 11th in the SEC (for context, Arkansas leads at 17.7 and Georgia is last at 10.4) and Wilbekin is averaging just four a game, down from his 4.9 a year ago. This squad is more well-rounded offensively than last season’s perimeter-oriented Gators, yet Florida ranks 10th in the SEC in scoring at 71.7 points per game.

So better ball movement is going to be a point of emphasis until it’s being done to Donovan’s satisfaction. The standard for that expectation is a constant narrative during practice, but was reinforced in the locker room against Richmond.

“He got on me a little bit, but that’s all right. I’m used to it,” Wilbekin said. “I don’t like it, but you just have to move past it.”

Learn from it, also.

In the second half, with the game tied, Wilbekin drove into the lane, left his feet, got caught in the air with no shot and passed off the ball ... to a Richmond player. The Spiders got a layup at the other end.

“I knew it was wrong when I did it,” Wilbekin said.

Mistakes are going to happen, but what Donovan has talked about to his players ad nauseam is moving past them. It’s especially pivotal for the point guard; even more so when he’s wired like Wilbekin.

“Because of his competitiveness, it overwhelms him in the game,” Donovan said. “Like the more shots he misses around the basket, the more determined he gets to keep driving, and the more the ball doesn't go in, and the more frustrated he gets, and the more we stand around and watch him play by himself.”

Donovan wasn’t going to stand for that. It was addressed. And then some.

“We’ve played pretty good so far, but we still have so much room to grow, as far as being more complete and playing together and playing to each other’s strengths,” Wilbekin said. “It starts with me.”


When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
Records: Florida 11-2; South Carolina 7-6
TV: CSS, CST and streaming on ESPN3 (w/Matt Stewart and Daymeon Fishback) 
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) /
Game notes: Florida notes; South Carolina notes


History: The Gators lead the all-time series with the Gamecocks 40-22, including a 24-11 mark under Coach Billy Donovan. UF has won six straight meetings, including a 75-36 win at Gainesville on Jan. 30, 2013, as senior guards Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario each scored 15 points. It was Florida’s defense, though, that stood out that night. The Gators held the Gamecocks to just 10 points in the first half. 

Pre-game storyline: The game tips off the Southeastern Conference season for both teams. The Gators are defending league champions and winners of two of the last three SEC regular-season crows. 

The players: Senior forward Casey Prather will start the SEC season as the league’s No. 10 scorer (17.3 points per game), tied for 20th in rebounding (5.8 pg) and its leader in field-goal percentage (.610). ... Patric Young continues to nudge his numbers north. Over the past six games, the 6-9, 240-pound senior center has averaged 12.5 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 54 percent from the floor. ... Backup forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg) grabbed 13 rebounds in the win against Richmond, his most to date as a Gator. The 6-8 sophomore and Virginia Tech transfer has three double-digit games on the glass so far.

The opponent: The Gamecocks have some bad losses on their resume (falling to both Manhattan and South Carolina Upstate at home), but they also played Baylor to the final buzzer and handed St. Mary’s its first loss of the season on a neutral court. ... Only one starter, 5-11 senior guard Brenton Williams (11.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg), is back for a USC team that went 14-18 overall and 4-14 in league play last season. One other starter, Bruce Ellington, who doubled as the team’s point guard and star running back/receiver for Steve Spurrier’s football team, announced last week he would not play basketball this spring and focus on preparing for the NFL, instead. ... After Williams, USC is paced by 6-5 G Sindarius Thornwell (10.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and 6-7 sophomore Mindaugas Kacinas (6.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg), a Lithuanian who is the Gamecocks’ tallest starter.


* 17 - UF’s average rebounding edge over the previous four games, a string in which the Gators have out-boarded their opponents by double-digits each outing. That’s the first time that’s happened since the 2004-05 season.

* 23 - Consecutive wins at the O’Dome for the Gators, which is one shy of tying the school record set over the two seasons (end of 2005-06, beginning of 2006-07) that brought UF back-to-back national titles.

* 49.3 - Sophomore guard Michael Frazier’s 3-point shooting percentage, which leads the SEC by nearly 6 percent.

* 1988 - Last time Florida lost an SEC opener played at home. LSU won a rare December conference game, beating the Gators 111-101 behind 53 points from freshman guard Chris Jackson.

* 2012 - The last year Florida lost its SEC opener. The Gators were beaten 67-56 at Tennessee.

Watch for it: UF’s free-throw percentage of 65.7 ranks 11th among SEC teams. After watching the Gators clang from the line the last three games (42 of 72 for 58.3 percent) that number feels like it should be much worse. But now the digits reset, sort of, as Florida’s marksmanship from the stripe in SEC play will be closely scrutinized. It has to get better. Has. To.


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