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 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 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.

Gators Lose Kasey Hill for a Month in 67-53 Win over Southern

The Florida Gators men’s basketball team won on Monday night, but they may have actually lost. Early in the second half of the Gators’ 67-53 victory over the Southern Jaguars, freshman guard Kasey Hill rolled his ankle sidelining him for a month. The injury turned out to not be as bad as it looked, but we still have to add a hopefully to the end of that statement. Hill suffered a high ankle sprain that could keep him out for the remainder of the 2013 calendar year.

Kasey Hill - Florida Gators

The Gators have now won two in a row since falling to Wisconsin last week. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we really have no idea who will be on the court for Florida going forward. With Hill gone for at least a month, Dillon Graham out for the season (head coach Billy Donovan announced this on Monday), Eli Carter possibly out for an extended period of time, and Scottie Wilbekin still suspended, there may be an open call for any student that can play the guard position.

After Hill went down on Monday night, the Gators’ offense looked lost and Donovan looked for ways to fix it. While the Gators’ scoring output didn’t change much with the loss of Hill—Florida scored 35 with him available in the first half and 32 without him in the second—they weren’t able to control the flow of the game. Southern actually outscored Florida 34-32 over the final 20 minutes.

We’ll go with what we’ve got. We’ll have to do some different things, make some lineup adjustments and changes, protect some guys in foul trouble and probably have multiple guys handle the ball. We’ve got to be able to flow and function on offense.

- Billy Donovan, Florida Gators Head Coach

One of Florida’s three incoming transfers—Dorian Finney-Smith—has seen his playing time increase from his first game to his second, but he is solely a forward. One of the others—Damontre Harris—remains suspended and from the sounds of it, he will remain so for quite some time. With Carter’s minutes limited, the Gators may move forward with just two scholarship guards—Michael Frazier II and Devon Walker. Immediately, Florida may be able to handle it, but a four-game stretch with contests against Florida State, Connecticut, Kansas and Memphis is right around the corner.

Six of the Gators’ top seven scorers remain available despite the injuries and suspensions, but who will get them the ball? Frazier II is a pure shooter and Florida’s primary weapon from behind the three-point line. Now, he may be the one bringing the ball up the court. What started as a top-10 team may quickly become a roster pieced together by out-of-position players. While talent is still available, plenty of it will be watching from the bench.

It’s too early in the season to curse the football team for passing along its whatever bad mojo it has just yet, but if anyone else is carried off of the court or suspended any time soon, we may be seeing significant minutes from names that are new to us. For instance, we know who Jacob Kurtz is, but before this season, his career high in minutes played was 4 against South Carolina on January 30, 2013. In four games this season, Kurtz is averaging 18.5 minutes per game. That’s not to say he hasn’t earned more playing time, but his story would be different with a full roster.

The Gators get two days to process Hill’s injury and Carter’s future. On Thursday, they host Middle Tennessee. A win is expected, but no one has any idea what form it will take.

Wisconsin Badgers 59 – Florida Gators 53; Point Guard-Less Gators Come Up Short

This wasn’t a game that the Florida Gators should have won, but it also wasn’t a game where a win was unattainable either. The Gators had plenty of opportunities to seize the game but instead came up short with a 59-53 loss in Madison, WI against the Wisconsin Badgers.

Billy Donovan, Florida Gators

I’m going to try to break down the game in terms of positives and negatives, through the notes I took during the game.

Positives:

• Florida didn’t get killed. Seriously, the team went into a hostile environment without a point guard for much of the game and handled it reasonably well given the circumstances.
• Michael Frazier II put forth a magnificent effort, scoring 20 points on 11 shots with 5 three-pointers, and you could say he’s the primary reason that Florida was able to stay in the game. He also assumed a lot of the ball-handling duties when Kasey Hill was out.
• Casey Prather (12 points) continued to be one of the top offensive options. I’d say that he is easily the most improved player from last year to this year and he’s made tremendous strides over his career.
• The defense wasn’t bad. In fact, it looked better than it did against North Florida.

Negatives:

• Kasey Hill struggled to get into a groove, and most of his layups were strong off the backboard, though he really showed off his athleticism and burst in the open floor. Wisconsin was also playing very loose defense on Hill and he failed to hit a shot that forced the defense to guard him closely. He fouled out in the second half.
• DeVon Walker still isn’t there yet. He showed flashes of athleticism, with a nice block in transition, but turned over the ball too much and looked like a young player who just isn’t ready.
• No back-up point guard: Prather and Walker handled the ball often and accounted for 8 of Florida’s 11 turnovers.
• Depth. Not much of it, whatsoever. That will change though.
• The Gators left way too many Wisconsin shooters open. Perimeter defense has struggled this year without Scottie Wilbekin and Kenny Boynton.
• Patric Young is struggling to play good basketball. If the Gators had more depth, this would be a situation where Donovan benches Young in order to motivate him.

Overall, isn’t wasn’t a bad effort for a depleted basketball team against a decent team in Wisconsin. The Florida Gators showed a lot of fight and should improve on the loss. While Scottie Wilbekin remains suspended, key transfers Dorian Finney-Smith and Demontre Harris should be available for Florida on Saturday against the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans in the O’Connell Center.

Florida Gators 77 – North Florida Ospreys 69; Gators Unimpressive in 2013-14 Men’s Basketball Opener

It’s that time of the year again. That’s right; Florida Gators Basketball is back, though it didn’t completely begin as planned.

Billy Donovan couldn’t exactly be described as a happy camper after the game:

We are light years away from even being a remotely good defensive team right now and light years away from even being a ranked team.

-Billy Donovan, Florida Gators Head Coach

 

Donovan has plenty to be upset about though. Thought the Florida Gators won 77-69 against a respectable North Florida team, the Ospreys were able to make nine three-pointers against a Gators defense that wasn’t up to par with what we saw last year. 69 points for a team that was probably paid just to play the No. 10 Gators is too many.

Offensively, things weren’t much better for the Gators. Between Patric Young, Will Yeguete, and new transfer Eli Carter, the trio had only 7 points to show for. That’s going to have to change. Surprisingly, walk-on Jacob Kurtz outscored each of those aforementioned scholarship players with 4 points himself.

On the bright side, three Gators shined, perhaps each having his own best game in the orange and blue. Casey Prather played out of his mind, posting a career-high 28 points and accounting for more than a third of the Gators’ points. Kasey Hill was everything he was cut out to be with 15 points, 2 steals, and 4 assists running the Gators’ offense. Also great was the efficient 19 points and 9 rebounds from sophomore sharp-shooter Michael Frazier, who did everything but rain down threes in his return from the mononucleosis that hampered his health over the last month.

Things could get worse for the Gators, however, before they get better. The Gators match up against a Wisconsin team on Tuesday that is definitely better than North Florida. The Gators will miss their defensive-star point guard Scottie Wilbekin, phenom transfer Dorian Finney-Smith, and Damontre Harris for the second-straight game in each’s violation of team rules.

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?