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Freshman Chris Walker grabbed six rebounds and played a career-high 14 minutes Saturday.

Saturday March 1, 2014Walker Shows Progress in Extended Minutes vs. LSU

Freshman Chris Walker grabbed six rebounds and played a career-high 14 minutes Saturday.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Chris Walker was answering questions about his performance in Saturday’s 79-61 win over LSU when teammate Patric Young plopped down on a chair a few feet away.

Walker looked as comfortable on the court Saturday as any time since he made his Gators debut Feb. 4 at home against Missouri. The 6-foot-10 freshman forward particularly liked his only basket of the game, a first-half layup on a pass from Kasey Hill, his teammate last summer at the McDonald’s All-American Game.

“Kasey hit me in transition and I finished it,’’ he said. “I got the ‘and-1’ but I didn’t make the free throw. It’s a start.”

That is when Young playfully chimed in.

“Yeah, when are you going to hit a free throw?” Young quipped.

“I was tired,’’ responded Walker, now 0-for-2 from the free-throw line in his young college career. “I need to take lessons from Pat.”

Joking aside, Walker had reason to be winded more than usual Saturday. Walker played a total of 29 minutes in his first seven games, and saw only one minute in Tuesday night’s win at Vanderbilt.

In the thrashing of LSU, as the No. 1-ranked Gators stretched their win streak to 31 games at the O’Connell Center and to 21 games overall, Walker played a career-high 14 minutes – or nearly half his season total prior to entering against the Tigers early in the first half.

Walker finished with two points, a career-high six rebounds, two blocks and one steal.

He enjoyed every minute.

“It felt good to be out there,’’ Walker said. “I’m willing to play as many minutes as Coach needs me to in my role.”

Chris Walker

Walker’s only bucket gave Florida a 21-9 lead with 10:43 left in the first half. He played five minutes in the first half and then saw nine minutes after halftime as the Gators stretched a 41-25 halftime lead to as many as 29 points in the second half.

When Walker (photo, right) entered the Vanderbilt game on Tuesday, Florida’s coaching staff noticed Commodores coach Kevin Stallings, who runs one of the more complex offenses in the conference, changed an out-of-bounds play to take advantage of the inexperienced Walker.

The Commodores scored on the play. The next time down court Vanderbilt posted up Walker and drew a foul. Walker went to the bench and did not return in Florida’s 57-54 road win.

Walker said Donovan told him before Saturday’s game to expect more playing time because LSU offered better individual matchups due to the Tigers’ size in the frontcourt.

“He stayed on the glass,’’ teammate Dorian Finney-Smith said of Walker’s effort Saturday. “He stayed active. Chris is coming along. I’m proud of him.”

Donovan was pleased at the way Walker responded from his short stint at Vanderbilt.

“It was good to see Chris be able to get some more minutes. This was a good game for him because LSU is a great high-low team offensively,’’ Donovan said. “They’ve got a lot of weapons, but it’s pretty easy for Chris. He’s going to be playing post defense or he is gong to be standing at the high post.

“I think that was a good game for him where he could maybe inject some of his rebounding and athleticism and some of those things.”

Walker grabbed three rebounds in each half and his block and rebound led to Finney-Smith’s 3-pointer  that stretched the Gators’ lead to 52-30, capping a 9-0 run that brought the sellout crowd at the O’Dome to its feet sensing a blowout.

“The ball off the glass kind of found me this time,’’ Walker said. “I was trying to grab it, squeeze onto it, and kick it to the point guard and run the floor. I tried to do work while I was out there.”

While Walker remains a work in progress for a senior-leaden team, if he can deliver like he did Saturday, then more minutes could come his way.

Walker’s combination of size and athleticism is a weapon the Gators can use when the right opportunity presents itself like against LSU.

“He's a guy who comes to practice each and every day with a humble and hungry attitude,’’ senior forward Casey Prather said. “Anytime he can play good it's going to be good for him and good for our team."


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