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 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.

Alex Murphy to Transfer from Duke to Florida; Erik Murphy’s Brother to Play for Gators

While the football program is routinely gutted by the transfer process, head men’s basketball coach Billy Donovan continues to convince those not happy with their current situations to come play for the Florida Gators. The latest to announce his intentions to transfer to Florida is forward Alex Murphy, younger brother of former Gators forward Erik Murphy.

Alex Murphy, Florida Gators

The younger Murphy was one of the nation’s better prospects coming out of high school. He was a four-star recruit across the four major services – 247, ESPN, Rivals, and Scout – and fell between No. 36 and No. 45 in overall rankings. Murphy committed to the Duke Blue Devils over Florida and redshirted his first season, 2011-12. Over the next season and a half, Murphy never became a consistent contributor for the Blue Devils, averaging 6.3 minutes in 2012-13 and 6.3 this season. Murphy only appeared in five of Duke’s 10 games this season.

When it became evident Murphy would look to pursue his college basketball career elsewhere, Florida became the logical choice. His No. 2 during the recruiting process, Murphy had come to know the Gators through both his brother and Donovan. There was a connection that benefitted Florida greatly when Murphy decided Duke was no longer for him.

Because of the timing of his transfer, Murphy will be eligible to play for the Gators one year from now, or about halfway through the 2014-15 season. He could become a big part of the rotation immediately as Florida loses Casey Prather, Will Yeguete, and Patric Young after this season. With Damontre Harris not an option and soon-to-be-playing freshman Chris Walker likely a one-and-done (or half-and-done to be accurate), the Gators need bigs. While Murphy plays a similar style of basketball as that of his older brother, he still has size and Florida will need it.

2013 Basketball Recruiting: Jabari Parker To Duke; Florida Gators Lose Elite Recruit

It appears Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators had too much ground to cover to steal a truly elite recruit from one of the nation’s top programs, Duke. The Blue Devils received the commitment of the No. 2 player in the nation, Simeon’s Jabari Parker. On Thursday, Parker chose Duke over BYU, Michigan State, Stanford, and Florida.

Many followers of the Gators’ basketball recruiting, including myself, saw their hopes leap sky-high while watching Parker’s announcement. This was due to the fact that Parker appeared to be pulling something of blue color out of a backpack as he was making his announcement. You know the rest from there. Crashing all of our hopes and dreams, the young recruit revealed a blue jacket that let the nation know his intent to play for the Duke Blue Devils next year.

Though Chicago’s small forward Parker wasn’t thought to be a likely possibility for Florida very long ago, the Gators pursued him in large strides, finishing with a valiant effort and becoming one of the top teams considered. Unfortunately, that doesn’t add him to next year’s Gators roster, but don’t stop believing that the Gators can’t be great next year. They are still in consideration for top recruit Julius Randle, and already have top-ten recruits Kasey Hill and Chris Walker committed. The future still looks very bright, this year, and next.

2013 Basketball Recruiting: Florida Gators November Recruiting Update

With the football season more than halfway over, election day today, and the Florida Gators’ basketball season three days away, it’s safe to say that this year has been flying by. That being said, it’s always the right time to talk about basketball recruiting. Below is an update on how Florida stands with three elite basketball recruits.

Dakari Johnson

Center, Dakari Johnson: Good news came for Florida when it was learned that former 2014 center Dakari Johnson reclassified to become the No. 1 center in the 2013 class. This comes a pleasant surprise for Florida because, of course, they can never have enough size up front. Even more of a pleasant surprise, Johnson is a teammate of Kasey Hill at the Montverde Academy of Florida. Kasey Hill’s friendship and Johnson’s already-formed relationship with Billy Donovan through the Under-17 Olympic team should factor as advantages for Florida to land the top recruit.

Leaders: Florida, Kentucky, Kansas, Syracuse, Georgetown, Ohio State, and Georgia

Prediction: Florida receives Johnson’s commitment thanks in large part to his ties to fellow recruit Kasey Hill and coach Billy Donovan.

Forward, Julius Randle: The player who is regarded as the No. 2 recruit in the 2013 class by Rivals has been one of Billy Donovan’s primary targets in a recruiting year that has already been quite great. Randle is somewhat of an athletic freak, drawing comparisons to a more-skilled Terrence Jones. Florida’s angle on Randle is similar to that of Johnson. Randle was also coached by Donovan on the Under-17 Olympic team, and the two have a very good relationship. On a team that would be already incredibly athletic with Chris Walker, Kasey Hill, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Demontre Harris (assuming Patric Young doesn’t return next season, even though that would be even more great), Randle would take it to a whole new level of athleticism.

Leaders: Kentucky, NC State, Florida, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma

Prediction: In what should be a very close race between Florida, Texas, and Kentucky, I can’t bring myself to bet against Kentucky pursuing a high-profile recruit that is very sought-after, though this one could go in any direction.

Forward: Jabari Parker: The 6’8″ Parker is the No. 1 prospect in all the land, but don’t count on Florida’s chances of landing him because they are slim. Florida was very fortunate to make his top-five, but the chances of Florida edging out Duke or BYU are very unlikely. Though it’s not likely to happen, stranger things have happened and the elite scorer would be an awesome surprise that I’m sure Gators fans would welcome.

Leaders: BYU, Stanford, Duke, Michigan State, and Florida.

Prediction: Duke beats out BYU in a close race. Michigan State is the dark-horse.

Video Time: Here’s a great video of the latter two of three recruits, Randle and Parker, battling against each other. Could they someday be teammates?

2013 Basketball Recruiting: Chris Walker Has Confidence, A Lot Of It; And We Like It

I’ve always found it humorous when people complain about athletes being cocky. To play at a high level, you must have a certain amount of confidence. Whether that’s “cocky” or not doesn’t really bother me. Future Florida Gators basketball player Chris Walker has confidence, a lot of it.

When Walker committed to play for Billy Donovan at Florida, he guaranteed a national championship would be coming to Gainesville. Now, Walker is hinting (and it may not be a hint, it may be an outright declaration) that he will enter the NBA Draft after only one season with the Gators.

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to Florida fans. We may hate the one-and-done rule for selfish reasons, but it happens and with a player of Walker’s caliber, it’s sometimes almost a guarantee.

That’s a guarantee Walker can fulfill on his own. The national championship is one he’ll need help with. The Gators are bringing in plenty of talent around Walker, including classmate Kasey Hill, but you don’t win championships with potential. We’ll take Walker’s championship guarantee and enjoy his confidence, even if it will only be for one season.

2013 Basketball Recruiting: Chris Walker Commits To The Florida Gators

The Florida Gators received big news on Sunday morning when 2013 power forward Chris Walker committed. Although not surprising (many believed it was only a matter of time), Walker is widely considered one of the nation’s top upcoming seniors and his commitment is big. Prior to Sunday, the Gators 2013 class was made up of exactly one commit – Kasey Hill.

“In Indianapolis when I saw the way me and (Hill) played, I saw the bigger picture with us possibly competing for a national title.” – Chris Walker, 2013 Power Forward

Walker has developed a chemistry with Hill on their AAU team – Florida Elite – and doesn’t want that to end. The pair hope to do big things for the Gators once they arrive.

Before and after Walker pulled the trigger, the highest ranked committed player in the 2013 class belonged to Florida. The Gators now how the only two committed prospects in the top seven – Walker is No. 6 and Hill is No. 7. This gives Florida an edge at the top of the team rankings and also gives Billy Donovan the big man he’s been looking for. Walker becomes the first player taller than 6’6″ to commit to the Gators since the 2010 class.

No surprise here, but good news all around. Walker is a more than welcome addition and one that will do big things for Florida in the future.

Florida Gators Video Of The Day: Kasey Hill’s 46-Point Game

The Gators Video of the Day (GVOD) features, you guessed it, videos relating to the Florida Gators. They could be Gators athletes or homemade videos made by fans like ourselves. If you have any suggestions for GVOD, email me at evandagator@gmail.com or TBG at onegameback@gmail.com. We will try our best to live up to the “of the day” part of the title.

Kasey Hill impressed us again. The 2013 recruit led the Florida Elite in the Adidas Invitational, and they eventually won the championship. Among other things, Hill’s scoring was as great as ever as he wowed scouts and even Billy Donovan in Indianapolis. Below are portions of Kasey Hill’s 46 point game in the semifinal. Thanks to HomeTeamHoops for the video.

As the No. 7 recruit in the nation, Hill has gotten plenty of attention. Sports Illustrated dubbed him as the best player at the Invitational.

Also on the Elite is Gators target and five-star forward Chris Walker. Gators coaches will hope the AAU bond that Walker and Hill share will help Walker’s chances of landing at Florida.