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Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin and the Gators face UCLA tonight in the Sweet 16.

Thursday March 27, 2014Gators Notebook: UCLA's Anderson No Stranger, Walker's Journey, More Tidbits from Memphis

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin and the Gators face UCLA tonight in the Sweet 16.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- For many Florida fans, their first glimpse at 6-foot-9 UCLA sophomore Kyle Anderson will come tonight when the Gators and Bruins meet here in the Sweet 16.

That won't be the case for the Gators. They know Anderson well.

Kyle Anderson

Gators coach Billy Donovan and his staff recruited Anderson, who went to the same New Jersey high school at former UF player Mike Rosario, heavily prior to Anderson's decision to go to UCLA.

"It was a very close decision,'' Anderson said Wednesday of picking the Bruins over the Gators. "I wouldn't have had a problem going to [either]. I just happened to like UCLA more. The player development I saw when being recruited by Coach Donovan -- I think that played a big role in how much I liked Florida at the time."

Anderson's height and length offer a defensive challenge for the Gators. Anderson often plays point guard and his all-around skills are evident by his season stat line: 14.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 6.5 assists.

"He's definitely a unique cover,'' Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "We're just going to try to keep him out of the lane, not let him get a step because he has great length. If he gets a step on you, he can finish over and around you. We have to build walls."

Anderson signed at UCLA when former coach Ben Howland was in charge. In his first season on the job, Bruins coach Steve Alford quickly learned how important Anderson was to his new team.

"I don't know of anything that's been bigger for us,'' Alford said. "Not just a 6-9 point guard, but a wingspan of 7-3. We're talking about a very, very long, big point guard."

SLOW PROCESS

Florida freshman Chris Walker arrived with McDonald's All-American credentials and the customary hype that usually accompanies a prep player of his stature.

However, Walker has been used sparingly in his first season -- he wasn't cleared until midseason -- and has averaged 1.8 points and 5.1 minutes in 15 games.

Chris Walker

Fans expected much more. Donovan had a better grasp of reality.

The Gators already had a very good team and while Walker has certainly helped at times, he is not ready to be a major contributor due to his lack of experience.

"They get blown up, and it's almost impossible to reach the level of expectation the people have,'' Donovan said of high-profile recruits. "When Chris was getting closer to being cleared to play for us, I think people thought I was downplaying him just to kind of take pressure off him.

"But I was with him for a month in practice before he played and I knew where he was."

In Florida's two NCAA Tournament wins, Walker has a rebound and block in eight minutes of action.

RECRUITING IN MEMPHIS

One of the top prep players in the Memphis area this season was guard Chris Chiozza, who signed with the Gators out of White Station High.

Longtime known as a recruiting hotbed, Memphis has produced talent such as Penny Hardaway and many others over the years.

Memphis sign

Donovan was asked about recruiting the Memphis area and the challenge of beating out the University of Memphis for a player. The Tigers often keep the city's best players home, including former stars Hardaway, Keith Lee and Elliot Perry.

"It's a great city for basketball,'' Donovan said. "The city of Memphis has always produced a lot of really good, talented basketball players year in and year out. It's always hard [to recruit here]."

A 5-foot-11 point guard touted for his creative play and innate basketball IQ, Chiozza is one Donovan was able to land.

PAST MEANS NOTHING

This is the fourth time the Gators have faced UCLA in the NCAA Tournament in the past nine years. The Gators are 3-0, beating the Bruins in the 2006 national title game, the 2007 Final Four and in the round of 32 in 2011.

What exactly does the past have to do with tonight's matchup?

"Honestly, I don't think that matters at all,'' Wilbekin said. "It's not going to have any impact on the game."

The Gators and Bruins were both in Austin, Texas, last season in the NCAA Tournament and faced a potential matchup for a Sweet 16 berth.

However, Minnesota knocked UCLA from the tournament and Howland was fired afterward. The Gators then knocked Minnesota from the tournament, which prompted the firing of Tubby Smith, who was later replaced by former Gators assistant Richard Pitino.

Did you get all that? This is the first matchup between Donovan and Alford as head coaches.

ROAD WARRIORS

Former Gators Mike Miller and Nick Calathas come off the bench for the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, who are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase.

With the Gators, UCLA, Dayton and Stanford in town for the NCAA South Region finals at the FedExForum, the Grizzlies' home arena, Miller and Calathas won't have the opportunity to catch up with their former coach.

Memphis opened a five-game West Coast road swing Wednesday night with a 91-87 win at Utah. Miller and Calathas each scored nine points.

QUOTE OF NOTE I

"He's a very good on-the-ball defender. It's going to be a good matchup since he's more lower to the ground than me, has great leverage on me.'' -- UCLA's Anderson on facing Wilbekin, the SEC Player of the Year

QUOTE OF NOTE II

"I've always said this: there is no easy exit out of the NCAA Tournament. We all want to win national championships. I think every coach would tell you that. But for me, there's a lot I've learned as it relates to life and it relates to the drama of the NCAA Tournament." -- Donovan on coping with added pressure in deeper rounds of March Madness

BONUS SHOTS

Former Gators infielder Mark Ellis, who signed with St. Louis in the offseason, is in town with the Cardinals for the team's final spring exhibition game. St. Louis faces its Triple-A affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds, on Friday night ... Donovan, Alford and Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins all played in the Final Four. The only coach in Memphis who didn't play in the Final Four is Dayton's Archie Miller ... Wilbekin and teammate Patric Young are playing in their 15th career NCAA Tournament game on Thursday, tying former Gators Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard for the most in school history.

 

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