Florida-Pittsburgh post-game: Gators return to form with Wilbekin, Yeguete, defense to thank

The (1) Florida Gators (34-2) pulled away early in the second half to take down the (9) Pittsburgh Panthers (26-10) with a 61-45 victory in the third round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at the Amyway Center in Orlando, FL. After the game, head coach Billy Donovan and some players met with the media to discuss the win.

BACK TO FORM

Coming off a widely-panned disappointing performance against Albany, Florida had a choice when it faced Pittsburgh on Saturday – continue its less-than-stellar play and try to squeak out another victory or return to form and regain momentum.

The Gators obviously chose the latter path, which Donovan laid out for his team during practice and game preparation on Friday.

“You always want to play to your identity and who you’ve been and who we’ve been the entire year. I didn’t feel like we did that [on Thursday]. We didn’t play to our identity there, and I was disappointed by that because we really hadn’t done that all year long. That’s why I was disappointed,” he explained.

“I saw things inside of our team that I just did not like. There was nothing bad like in terms of bad attitudes or guys having a problem with one another, there was just this frustration, personal expectation, game not going the way they wanted it to go, and that’s not who we’ve been. I just wanted to make sure they understood that and we got back to who we were. …

“I don’t think any of them disagreed with anything I had to say. And I think that they understood where I was coming from and hopefully that in some way helped us get prepared for this game.”


That preparation included Florida getting ready for a challenging, physical contest that would likely be low-scoring. The Gators wound up dominating the Panthers in the post, grabbing 14 offensive boards, winning the rebounding battle 38-31, registering five blocks and only committing seven fouls on the afternoon. (UF also matched a season-low by giving up only six turnovers.)

“Coach was really getting on to us and challenging us and just asking us if that was the team that we wanted to be in these last couple of games that we have,” said senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin. “We just wanted to come out and not let them play harder than us or not let us play as hard as we can, and I think we did a good job of having our energy up at the start of the game, and we played together on offense and played together on defense.”

HE IS A “HEADLINE GUY”

Overlooked on Saturday – as Donovan noted, mostly because he does not normally fill out the box score – were the contributions of senior forward Will Yeguete, who was not only a strong defensive presence throughout the game but also hit 4-of-5 shots, grabbed four rebounds and finished with seven points on the afternoon.

Yeguete had one of his best games of the season, and it all started with the mindset he carried entering the contest.

“I was just trying to be aggressive defensively. I knew they were going to be a really good team,” he said. “On offense, I was trying to make plays and help my teammates, and I was able to shoot the ball sometimes and able to make plays and that’s really what I wanted to do today because I knew they were going to be a really good team from the get go and I had to be ready to go.”

Donovan praised Yeguete not only for his performance on Saturday but more so because of how important he has been for the Gators throughout his career. Yeguete does the dirty work – rebounding, defending, diving for loose balls – without receiving the appropriate recognition from many of those covering and watching the team.

While fans have certainly let Yeguete know he is appreciated at Florida, Donovan explained how he goes above and beyond to ensure that the Ivorian understands how integral he is to the program.

“It’s huge. He’s big. And again, he’s one of those guys that – look down at the stat sheet and he’s probably going to take anywhere from two to five shots per game, but he just does so many different things in the press. He’s such a great cover guy with our defense. He’s a great help defender. He’s the epitome of a guy that when you look down at the stat sheet it’s hard to have a level of appreciation for him,” said Donovan.

“I’ve always tried to talk to Will about how much I appreciate [him] because he really impacts winning. He really impacts the game in a very, very positive way for us and what he does is really, really rare. It’s hard to find. It’s hard to find guys that really kind of hang their hat on being kind of a dirty work guy, and it’s hard sometimes because certainly it doesn’t really give them a lot of headlines. He’s not a headline guy. But he really does a lot for our team.”

THE FIRE RISES

Pick a positive moment for Florida over the final 20:04 of the game – there were plenty – and chances are that Wilbekin played a major part in making it happen. In that span, which began with a buzzer-beating runner three-pointer to end the first half, Wilbekin scored 16 of his 21 points and continued to shut down Pittsburgh’s leading scorer, F Lamar Patterson.

Patterson, who referred to Wilbekin as a “great point guard” and someone who “took care of business,” averages a team-high 17.4 points per game for the Panthers but was held to just eight points Saturday on 3-of-11 shooting due in large part to Wilbekin’s defensive effort.

“He was worn out. He was chasing Patterson all over the court, and he went down the stretch and scored 13 points in a row for us,” said Donovan. “I mean, he was great on both ends of the floor because he really gives it up on the defensive end, and when you give it up like that and you’re the point guard, there’s a physical toll that your body takes over a period of time.”

Wilbekin was pulled late in the game with a bothered knee, which he described after the game as “bruised” and “fine” despite the fact that he was sporting an ice pack in the post-game press conference. Apparently, Wilbekin banged knees with someone on the opposing team but is expected to be fine for next week.

Before he minor injury, Wilbekin put together one of the best scoring stretches the Gators have seen this season – save from a three-point barrage by a certain sharpshooter a few weeks ago. Wilbekin not only hit the runner at the end of the first half but scored eight-straight points in the second half as part of a 6:51 stretch in which he was responsible for 13 of Florida’s 15 points.

Wilbekin noted that UF’s offense “isn’t really designed for one player to do something,” but Donovan game-planned for his floor general to get into the lane and turn the corner against Pittsburgh. He also reiterated some praise for Wilbekin after the contest.

“It’s been one of the great experiences for me as a coach going through what he and I have gone through together,” he said. “People get a chance maybe to see him grow as a player; I got a chance to see him grow as a person.”

WINNING ON THE COURT

Former Florida team manager Kyle Gilreath, who now works for Fast Model Sports and runs an interesting basketball blog Words on the Bounce. diagrammed a play that worked quite well for the Gators against the Panthers on Saturday.

Baseline Double

Frequenting his baseline series all game, Donovan ran this tweak to the set, adding in a double side pick-and-roll. This line-up for Florida is extremely versatile because it essentially has three point guards on the floor including Wilbekin (1), freshman Kasey Hill (2) and redshirt sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith (4).

As 1 (Wilbekin) came off the double pick-and-roll he had multiple options of attack:
1. Attack the rim or pull-up | 2. Drop down pass to (5) rolling
3. (2) and (3) spotting up on the weak side wing | 4. Throwback to (4) who can catch-and-shoot or attack

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Florida is now 8-0 playing as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament (6-0 in national championship-winning 2007 season).

» The Gators are now 40-16 all-time in the event (19 appearances) with a 33-11 record under Donovan (15 appearances).

» UF advanced to its fourth-straight Sweet 16 and has improved to 10-4 all-time in Round of 32 games.

» Florida extended its winning streak to a program-record 28 games with victories in 33 of its last 34 contests.

» Both of the teams UF lost to this season, Wisconsin and UConn, also advanced to play in the Sweet 16. Florida has not dropped a game since Dec. 2, 2013 and both of its losses came on the road.

» The Gators are 7-0 in neutral-site games this season.

» Donovan passed Dale Brown (LSU) to move into second-place all time for wins at an SEC school with 449.

» Florida’s senior class officially became the winningest in program history with 118 victories in four seasons.

» Panthers coach Jamie Dixon on the Gators: “Congratulations to Florida. They’re obviously a very good team, and the most physical team we’ve played all year long. They beat us on the glass and beat us to loose balls, and we got to give them credit. … Simply put, I was extremely disappointed in how we played. We’re a better team than what we showed today, and we have been playing better basketball. We just didn’t get it done, and I take responsibility for that. We didn’t execute well enough, we didn’t rebound well enough, and as I told the guys, I’ll take responsibility for that. We didn’t block out as well as we needed to, and we didn’t execute offensively as well as we needed to, and again, I take responsibility for that. We lost to a very good team, though, so take nothing away from Florida. They’re good, and there’s a reason why they’re the No.1 seed, the most physical, oldest team we’ve played all year, and they showed it.”

» Dixon on Florida, continued: “People try to find something wrong with this team at 34 2 and there’s not a lot wrong with them. They’re old, they’re experienced, they’re by far the most physical team we’ve played. They just banged us around all game long and the bodies are evident, their size, they’re experienced, they’re old. They’re well coached, all those things, and we just didn’t execute. We tried to cut, we tried to curl, we tried to go to the basket, and we just bounced off of them. That was something we talked about throughout the game. We just couldn’t get it done. They were more patient offensively, made a lot of shots at the end of the clock, at the end of possessions, and we didn’t.”

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16 Responses to “Florida-Pittsburgh post-game: Gators return to form with Wilbekin, Yeguete, defense to thank”

  1. Timmy T says:

    Hopefully the dude popping off about Will Yeguete was watching yesterday. That’s how he rolls. No fanfare. No glamour. He does the dirty work and plays his guts out. I’ll take a guy like that on my team everyday of the week and twice on Sundays.

    • Gatoralum88 says:

      Let’s not get carried away! An 8 point 4 rebound game certainly ISN’T worthy of “headlines”. That’s a joke right? I think it proves my point of how good he really is when you’re making such a big deal about such paltry stats! In fact, I’d rank his worth FOURTH behind Wilbekin (21 points) Young (8 rebounds 4 blocks) & Prather ( 6 rebounds 3 steals) in yesterday’s game. Yet, it was by all accounts a VERY GOOD game for Yeguete!!!…although they’re still lower than what DFS AVERAGES off the bench! Get real!…& give me a break!

      • Timmy T says:

        The overall team concept and the importance of every cog in the machine often escapes stat guys such as yourself. I had hoped you might have expanded your thinking beyond the stats, but it appears the big picture is invisible to you. Without trying to sound condescending, I feel bad you don’t understand the value of a player such as Will. Thankfully Billy D. does.
        As for my boy Doe-Doe, he’s awesome. I love what he brings to the team. He plays “starter minutes”, and I would venture to say he plays more than Will on a regular basis, (not sure), but none of that matters. They compliment each other beautifully. Will is more of a defender and DD is more of a scorer. There is a role for each to play within the team concept and Billy D meshes them wonderfully. I think, and I could be wrong, but I think Will starts because coach wants to establish the nasty defense out of the gate. You make it sound as DD should start and Will should get 2 minutes of PT during garbage time. Maybe that is not your intent or maybe it is. If it is your intent, you should expect to be called out because it comes across as silly and narrow-minded.

        • Gatoralum88 says:

          We’re all entitled to our opinions. IMO he’s BY FAR the weakest starter. His “career game” yesterday aside, he’s usually been worthless offensively which shouldn’t be the case for ANY player on the #1 team in the country. Whatever his major is he should change it to MASONRY with all the point blank bricks he’s laid this season. His saving grace is that he’s been around the 4 years so he has Billy’s defensive concepts down. It’s no secret they’ve been a slow starting team often this season & IMO Yeguete’s been the reason why! Too often the ball is in his hands at the top of the key with NO ONE covering him!…effectively making it 5 on 4 for opponents perhaps HOPING he’ll chuck a 3-point brick (where he’s 4-19 21% this season). OF COURSE DFS comes off the bench for that reason…to provide a boost!…& YES Billy gives him starters minutes (more than WY) for that reason. I doubt anyone will argue DFS is a BETTER scorer, rebounder, passer, shot blocker (hence BETTER PLAYER) than Yeguete. But, as the saying goes “every dog has its day” & yesterday was Yeguete’s day! I’m glad! I actually gave him props yesterday! I WANT him to play well! I hope he can keep it going for 4 more games. Go Gators!

          • Not sure what you have against Yeguete but…

            1) Not sure anyone is trying to say what he did Saturday was a “career game” for him…because it wasn’t.

            2) The entire point of the segment above – and my feature story on him earlier this month – is that his impact goes far beyond the box score.

            Not everything comes down to scoring and rebounding. If you don’t think Yeguete is a big reason why Florida is so successful this season – or if you believe the Gators would have the same record without him – you’re damn wrong.

            • Daniel M. says:

              The honorable Judge Silverstein slams the gavel. Court dismissed.

            • Gatoralum88 says:

              Good morning Adam! FYI, I don’t have anything against Yeguete personally because I don’t know the kid. Again, I WANT HIM & ALL GATOR PLAYERS TO PLAY WELL! They’re my team! I bleed Orange-&-Blue & am a UF alum! I’ve watched every minute of every game for many years & LOVE what they’ve done this season. Regarding Yeguete, I just think as a basketball player he has marginal ability at best! That’s all! That’s just MY opinion! You & everyone else are free to praise him if you’d like. It’s a free country! Just like I’m free to be critical if I want to be…(especially on a sports blog site) What? Can I not be critical because he’s a college player? Is that it? If that’s the case then I’ll add this last note about Yeguete. Sure, he’s a good defender & his stats may not reflect his actual worth. Obviously, they don’t! I get it! Wow! I didn’t expect ripping Yeguete would cause such outrage!

              • I just think you have the wrong perspective – completely.

                No one thinks Yeguete will play in the NBA or is one of the best prospects on the team. But there is no question that what he brings to the table goes far beyond the box score and he still makes a huge impact. Not everyone can be a star. But as a fifth starter he has a role and plays that particular role perfectly. Donovan isn’t looking for him to score. He wants him to defend like heck (check), rebound (check) and fight for loose balls / do the dirty work (check).

                Read my feature on Yeguete and take a look at the chart.

                Just because he has “marginal ability” offensively and has been limited in what else he can do by injury does not mean he deserves to me marginalized, which is basically what you’re doing and what the readers here have a problem with.

                In other words: Yeguete is not Noah – no shit – but that doesn’t mean he’s not important. Done discussing this.

            • Gatoralum88 says:

              BTW, Adam, I still love your site & always will! No hard feelings! :) Go Gators!!!

              • gatorboi352 says:

                Count me in s one of the Yeguete supporters. I said before the season, he will be the X Factor in determining whether or not we go all the way. He is the glue to this team.

              • 1974gator says:

                Adam, thanks for giving it up for Will. He’s the poster child for all that Billy preaches. Gatoralum88, those posts were a waste of your breathe and a waste of our time reading them.

  2. TST says:

    Some good stuff . Coach Dixon . We didn’t know till we played them . Ya, Bouncing off our psychical front line on their cuts and pic’s . Not good for the ego . Let alone scoring .
    Good Luck an Go GATORS

  3. chitown1123 says:

    For the Will Yeguete haters you might want cut him some slack. He is not the same player he was a freshman. He’s had micro fracture on both knee’s if I’m not mistaken. The same injuries that have made Amare Stoutmaire look like a shell of his high flying self. I applaud will for gutting it out and being their with his class mates of Scotty Casey and Patrick trying to cut the nets down in Dallas. Will came to Florida as Defense player with long arms quick hands good athletic ability and who could rebound the ball. If you can find some games of Will prior to the knee injuries you can see his explosion and good lift to rebound run and challenge shots. He’s not like that anymore.

  4. Joe says:

    Good to see no one really gave Gatoralum88′s asinine comments much credit. Go Will Yguette! Go Gators!

  5. Michael Jones says:

    If you really love basketball, the ebb and flow of it, the physical ballet of 5 men working with one mind to achieve a common purpose (e.g. like UVA’s performance last night), then you love Will Yeguete and what he brings to our team. There’s only 1 basketball, and not everyone on the team needs to be an offensive superstar. Somebody has to set the picks, somebody has to pick up the scraps, somebody has to block out, somebody has to take the charges, somebody has to fill the lane, somebody has to dive for loose balls, and somebody has to get gritty, get in there, mix it up, and tie-up the ball for a jump ball call . . .

    Yeguete has an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time when it matters most. He also may be a little underrated offensively as that little baby half-hook starts to drop more and more.

    His attitude, his selflessness, his love for his teammates, his relentlessness, his humility . . . . you can’t quantify those things in a numerical analysis.

    Can’t say enough about Will Yeguete. He stands for everything that’s right about college basketball and Billy D.’s program and recipe for success. He’s just one of those guys that makes you feel better about your team and your school when you see him wearing the uniform.

    GO GATORS!!!

  6. Michael Jones says:

    And I love Dorian Finney-Smith and what he brings to the table!! Love that we have a stud coming in off of the bench like that when the substitutions begin. LOVE IT.

    Also love that in Billy D.’s program nobody gets handed anything. Everybody has to earn their stripes. Everybody has to pay their dues. It’s not a prima donna based program. You come in, your work hard, you do what you’re told, you put in your time, and you get minutes and status accordingly.

    DFS is having a great year! He was SEC 6th man of the year and he is a big reason we are where we are.

    His days as a starter are coming. . they’ll be here soon enough. In the meantime, love that we have virtually no drop off when he comes in the game.

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