Florida Gators 67 – Tennessee Volunteers 58: Second Half Surge Leads to Victory, Again

Florida has this second half thing down. Tight first halves, followed by second halves during which the Gators march to victory after victory are becoming the norm. Florida did so again on Tuesday night, defeating Tennessee 67-58 in Knoxville.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida Gators

The Volunteers took a 34-33 lead into the locker room thanks to 62.5 percent shooting. Then the Gators tightened the reigns and pressed on defense. Tennessee’s hot shooting night quickly went sour as the Vols managed to shoot just 29.2 percent in the second half.

“…I thought we pressed predominantly most of the second half. We didn’t turn them over a lot, but it was just disruptive in terms of flow,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan.

The victory was the Gators’ 16th in a row and helped Florida improve its record to 22-2 (11-0 SEC). The Vols fell to 15-9 (6-5 SEC). The Gators have just seven regular season game remaining before the SEC Tournament. Up next for No. 3 Florida is a visit to No. 14 Kentucky.

The Gators relied heavily on a seven-man rotation throughout with all five starters and two reserves—sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith and freshman guard Kasey Hill—all seeing at least 20 minutes on the court. Freshman forward Chris Walker was able to get in for the third-straight game, but only saw five minutes of action.

Florida was led by senior guard Scottie Wilbekin who had 21 points and six assists. Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II was the only other player to score in double digits with 11. The Gators managed to pull off the victory despite shooting just 36.2 percent from the floor.

Florida Gators 78 – Alabama Crimson Tide 69: Gators Need Second Half to Pull Away

When Florida jumped out to an early 12-2 lead over Alabama on Saturday, it looked like the Gators were on their way to a blowout. That lead evaporated almost as fast as it grew and Florida would head into the locker room at halftime tied with the Crimson Tide.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida Gators

The second half saw Bama give Florida much of the same as the Gators’ defense didn’t play up to it’s usual standards.

“If you play defense the way we did tonight, you’re not going to win. Thank God we had some offense today that helped us,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan.

That offense came in the form of 62 percent shooting from the field and a second-half surge that saw the No. 3 Gators improve to 21-2 (10-0 SEC) on the season. The loss dropped the Anthony Grant-led Tide to 9-14 (3-7 SEC).

For the first time in over two months, all five Florida starters scored in double digits. The Gators were led senior guard Scottie Wilbekin’s 16. Senior center Patric Young added 11 and a highlight-reel block.

The Gators set a season high with 22 assists, but according to one Florida player, you aren’t going to hear Donovan praise them for that.

“Coach D is not going to tell us about that. As a coach, he wants us to see what we did wrong and get better from that. I think this game can help us learn. It better. Other teams are going to watch this film and see how we broke down and they’re going to run the same stuff,” said senior forward Will Yeguete.

The Gators have Sunday and Monday off before traveling to Knoxville, TN on Tuesday to take on 15-8 (6-4 SEC) Tennessee.

Florida Gators 68 – Missouri Tigers 58: Gators Victorious in Chris Walker’s Debut

A strong second half powered Florida to it’s 14th-straight win. The Gators defeated Missouri 68-58 in freshman forward Chris Walker’s orange and blue debut.

Chris Walker, Florida Gators

As expected, Walker was brought along slowly. The freshman was on the court for just seven minutes, but played well enough that he will be sure to be seeing more time soon. Walker finished with four points on two dunks that brought the crowd in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center to its feet. Walker also added two defensive rebounds, two blocks, and two personal fouls.

“Just happy he can finally get on the floor and contribute a little bit,” head coach Billy Donovan said.

While all eyes were on Walker, Florida’s best performances of the night came from guards Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II. Wilbekin played 36 of 40 minutes and finished with 19 points after going 13-of-16 from the free-throw line. Frazier II added four three-pointers and finished with 14 points.

While freshman guard Kasey Hill has yet to find his scoring touch since returning from injury in December, he showed marked improvement in distributing the ball. Hill finished with six assists to only one turnover in 21 minutes on the court.

In addition to its 14th-consecutive win, the Gators won their 28th in a row at home. That’s a school record Florida hopes to keep building on.

At 20-2 (9-0 SEC), the No. 3 Gators are two games ahead of 17-5 (7-2 SEC) Kentucky. With Walker added to the mix, Florida has a strong chance of holding on to that lead over the No. 18 Wildcats. The two teams face each other for the first time on February 15, but first up for the Gators is 9-12 (3-5 SEC) Alabama on Saturday, February 8.

Chris Walker to Make Florida Debut Against Missouri

On Tuesday night, freshman forward Chris Walker will finally make his debut. The highly-touted Walker will play in his first game as Florida hosts Missouri.

Chris Walker, Florida Gators

A variety of factors have delayed Walker’s debut for the Gators. He didn’t initially qualify academically and wasn’t able to join the team until December 14. In addition, the NCAA forced Walker to sit out 12 games due to preferential treatment he received during his recruiting. All together, the freshman missed 21 games.

A McDonald’s All-American, Walker was one of the nation’s best players coming out of high school. A five-star prospect, he committed to Florida to join AAU teammate Kasey Hill with the Gators. The duo was expected to make an immediate impact on a team that had been to three consecutive Elite Eights. Their joint debut was delayed, but many think that will be a good thing for Florida in the long run. Many expect Walker to return for his sophomore season.

There is plenty of time between now and then and anything could happen so we won’t count on anything just yet when it comes to the 2014-15 season. For now, we’ll just choose to be happy that Chris Walker has been freed. The talent and potential he brings to a team that already finds itself at No. 3 could mean big things for the Gators.

But, for the moment, baby steps. Head coach Billy Donovan has mentioned that we shouldn’t expect much from Walker early and he speaks the truth. Walker will be brought in as a player that hasn’t appeared in a game that counts for quite some time. His ability isn’t at question, but he will be worked into the lineup in the way that best suits Florida. Walker will surely make an impact, but a measured one in these first few games.

Florida Gators 69 – Texas A&M Aggies 36: Win Streak Reaches 13

Is there a sport in which the saying “defense wins championships” doesn’t apply? If so, it’s not college men’s basketball and that’s a good thing for the Florida Gators.

Patric Young, Florida Gators

On Saturday, Florida defeated Texas A&M 69-36. The win was the 13th in a row for No. 3 Florida and that streak could continue for quite some time. The 19-2 (8-0 SEC) Gators only have two games remaining on their regular season schedule against ranked opponents. Both of those contests pit Florida against Kentucky. It could be smooth sailing for the Gators between now and the NCAA Tournament and this team is good enough to make some serious noise come March.

Holding the Aggies to less than a point per minute is impressive; holding Texas A&M to less than 26% from the field may be more so. Not every game will go this way, but the Gators’ defense is an unmatched strength in the SEC. While there is talent elsewhere in the conference, Florida is benefiting from a down year all around. That’s not to take anything away from the Gators, but were at that point that anything less than both a regular season SEC title and conference tourney title would be a disappointment.

Florida was led by sophomore guard Michael Frazier II who led all scorers with 21 points. Only sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith joined Frazier II in the double-digit scoring club, but that didn’t matter much as not a single Aggie scored more than seven points.

Finney-Smith was one rebound away from a double-double, while senior center Patric Young was one point away from the same. Young led all players with 14 rebounds. Senior forward Will Yeguete also had a double-digit rebounding outing with 10.

Despite the big win, head coach Billy Donovan was ever the realist. “We haven’t even played half our league games yet,” Donovan said.

He’s right of course, but it’s exciting to see this team seemingly improve with every game. It’s scary to the rest of the nation that the Gators are about to get even better. On Tuesday, against Missouri, highly-touted freshman forward Chris Walker will finally make his debut.

Florida Gators 67 – Richmond Spiders 58: Gators Win Final Non-Conference Game

With one final game before conference play begins, Florida defeated Richmond 67-58 on Saturday. The Gators improved to 11-2 and will head into SEC play in the top 13 of both major polls.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida Gators

The Spiders kept the game closer throughout than the Gators would have liked, and even led with less than six minutes to play. But when it mattered, Florida stepped up on both offense and defense. For nearly four full minutes near the end of the game, the Gators went on a 12-0 run, taking a lead they wouldn’t give up. Richmond was able to score eight points in the final 1:06, but it wasn’t enough and Florida would prevail.

The Gators were led by sophomore guard Michael Frazier II, who scored 18 points. He went 3-for-7 from behind the arc with all three makes coming in the second half. He was joined in the double-digit scoring column by senior forward/center Patric Young (15), senior forward Casey Prather (12), and senior guard Scottie Wilbekin (10). Prather has scored in double digits in every single Gators’ game this season.

Head coach Billy Donovan appears to have his lineup set for hard-fought games. Senior forward Will Yeguete was the only starter to not log at least 20 minutes, but did play 18. Coming off of the bench, sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith played 28 minutes and freshman guard Kasey Hill was on the court for 21. Sophomore guard/forward DeVon Walker was the only other Florida player to see the court. He logged nine minutes. The rotation could change slightly when freshman forward Chris Walker finally makes his debut, but, for the most part, the Gators appear to be set assuming everyone stays healthy.

The Gators’ begin SEC play on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 when South Carolina comes to Gainesville.

Florida Gators 76 – Savannah State Tigers 34: Patric Young Scores 1,000th Career Point in Blowout

Florida ended 2013 on a high note, defeating Savannah State 76-34 on Sunday in Gainesville. The Gators jumped out to a 34-11 halftime lead and never took their foot off of the gas. The 42-point win is by far the largest victory margin of the season for Florida.

Patric Young, Florida Gators

The spotlight was planted firmly on senior forward/center Patric Young. Young became the 50th Florida men’s basketball player to score 1,000 career points. He would finish the game with a team-high 15 points and add six rebounds.

“I have just been very fortunate to be on winning teams and just to be here under Coach [Billy] Donovan, one of the guys who is going to help develop his players. I can praise him for that. I couldn’t walk and chew gum when I first got here. I can do a few more things now. I just want to thank him for believing in me and helping me get better,” said Young.

After scoring the basket that put him over 1,000 points, Young would score again, ending the game with 1,003 career points. That moved him to 49th-place on the all-time list. With the majority of the season remaining, Young will have plenty of opportunities to rise even higher in the Florida history books.

Three other players joined Young in the double-digit scoring club in the win. Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II had 11 points and senior forward Casey Prather and senior guard Scottie Wilbekin both had 10. Sophomore foward Dorian Finney-Smith and sophomore guard/forward DeVon Walker tied for the team lead with seven rebounds.

The Gators led the Tigers in every major statistically category, but the most telling was field goal percentage. Florida shot 49.0% from the field while holding Savannah State to 24.5% shooting. Only two players on the Tigers’ entire roster managed to make at least half of their shots and eight players that attempted field goals didn’t connect on a single one.

At 10-2, the Gators have won four in a row heading into 2014. That momentum should serve them well in their final non-conference game of the regular season on Saturday, January 4, 2014 against Richmond. Following that, the Gators host South Carolina on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 to kick off their SEC schedule.

Florida Gators 66 – Fresno State Bulldogs 49: Gators Head to Break 9-2

The Florida Gators’ men’s basketball team added another victory before heading into the holiday break. On Saturday, the Gators defeated Fresno State 66-49 to improve to 9-2. It was Florida’s third-straight victory and final game before an eight-day break.

Casey Prather, Florida Gators

Defense was the story in the Gators’ victory, although that could be said of both games that were part of the Orange Bowl Basketball classic. Of the four teams that competed, not one shot better than 42 percent and many of the participants talked of extremely unforgiving rims.

Even if the rims were hard, Florida put forth one of its best defensive performances of the season. The Gators held the Bulldogs to only 32 percent shooting, which was the best output for the season for Florida.

“This was probably our best game defensively from start to finish,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan.

Senior forward Casey Prather once again led the Gators in scoring with 16 points. Prather shot 8-for-11 from the field.

The biggest advantage the Gators held came in rebounds. Florida finished with a 47-24 victory in that aspect of the game. The Gators were led by senior forward Will Yeguete who had 10 boards.

Freshman guard Kasey Hill was on the court for only 15 minutes, but did connect on both of his shots from the field. Hill finished with seven points, but three turnovers to only one assist.

The Gators are back in action at home on December 29 against Savannah State. They follow that up with another home again on January 4 against Richmond before the begin SEC play.

Florida Dismisses Damontre Harris; South Carolina Transfer Never Plays for Gators

Florida has announced the dismissal of forward Damontre Harris. The transfer from South Carolina leaves the program having never played for the Gators. Florida will allow Harris to transfer without any restrictions.

Damontre Harris, Florida Gators

Harris transferred to Florida from South Carolina hoping to play two seasons with the Gators after sitting out during the 2012-13 campaign. He was suspended before the 2013-14 season began and, just recently, head coach Billy Donovan said he didn’t believe Harris would ever play for the Gators. On Saturday, that became true.

At 6’9″, the forward/center was expected to play behind senior Patric Young this season and then take over for him in 2014-15. An SEC All-Defensive Team selection with the Gamecocks, Harris was a welcome addition to the Gators roster. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to put it all together and get himself in Donovan’s good graces.

The timing of Harris’s dismissal is one to note as it will give him the ability to join another program for the spring semester. When he’ll actually be able to play is up to the NCAA.

Florida Gators 77 – Memphis Tigers 75: Gators Winning Close Games This Time Around

One season ago, the Florida Gators turned in a 0-6 record in games decided by less than 10 points. With a 77-75 victory over the Memphis Tigers on Tuesday night, the Gators improved to 4-2 this season alone in such games.

Casey Prather, Florida Gators

While not technically a road game, Florida traveled to New York, NY to face Memphis in the Jimmy V. Classic at Madison Square Garden. It was the Gators third-straight game against a ranked opponent and second-consecutive victory. Florida improved to 2-2 this season against ranked opponents. As the polls stand today, the Gators won’t face another ranked opponent until February 4, 2014 when they host the Missouri Tigers.

The player of the game was a no-brainer as the honor goes to senior forward Casey Prather. Prather shot 8-of-13 from the field, a perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line, and led all scorers with 22 points. He put in the final eight points the Gators would score and made four free throws in the final 1:20 to help Florida to the win.

To say Prather has been a surprise this season would be a gross understatement. The senior was expected to see more playing time and showed flashes last season that proved he would be able to answer the call with increased minutes; however, he has performed at a higher level than any would have expected. He leads the team with 18.7 points per game and has already surpassed his points total from last season. Prather was expected to be a contributor, but has surpassed that expectation and has become a vital part of Florida’s success.

Of the three transfers eligible to play for the Gators this season, redshirt sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith is the one continuing to make a name for himself. (Of course, Eli Carter is redshirting while injured and Damontre Harris isn’t likely to ever play for the Gators.) In 29.0 minutes per game for Virginia Tech during the 2011-12 season, Finney-Smith averaged 6.3 points and 7.0 rebounds. In almost four less minutes per game for Florida, he is averaging 11.4 points and 7.5 rebounds. While Carter heals and Harris possibly looks for another opportunity elsewhere, Finney-Smith is taking every possible advantage of the opportunity to play for the Gators and head coach Billy Donovan and is performing admirably.

Freshman guard Kasey Hill isn’t back to his old self just yet, but he was able to play 20 minutes or more for the second-consecutive game since returning from injury. Hill had his ups and downs during the win, struggling early. Sometimes it’s hard to remember he’s just a freshman and still has a lot to learn. Missing four games didn’t help the process, but Hill will continue to grow. The Gators will need him at his best if they hope to make a deep tourney run come March.

Florida improves to 8-2 with the win. With three non-conference games left before SEC play begins, the Gators are in a good position to have a nice streak riding into the new year. Florida will travel to another neutral site on Saturday to face the Fresno State Bulldogs in the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic in Sunrise, FL. The 4:30pm game can be seen on Fox Sports Net.