No. 12/15 Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Sunday, one days before his team was set to visit the No. 14/12 UConn Huskies on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. in Stoors, CT at the Gampel Pavilion.
SECOND IN A STRETCH
Florida has already been tested early this season, dropping a close game at now-No. 8 Wisconsin and emerging victorious with a one-point victory against should-have-been-ranked Florida State on Friday in Gainesville, FL. Perhaps most impressive of all is the fact that the Gators have been competitive in these games despite dealing with a throng of injuries and disciplinary issues.
Next up for UF in a series of four tough games spread out over 16 days is a Monday night battle at UConn. Donovan believes his team will be prepared for the challenge.
“The one thing about playing Wisconsin on the road was a very good game. It was a great challenge for us,” he said. “Not having Dorian [Finney-Smith] there, not having Scottie there, having other guys on our team out, we went into that game with a lack of depth. We’ve got some new guys back, Dorian and Scottie [Wilbekin], but Kasey Hill and DeVon Walker could be out again.
“It’s been one of these things where we’ve had to go game from game. But I do think when you play big games like this, and even the Florida State game, you’re going to find out more about your team. You’re going to find out more where you need to get better. There’s certain things that will get exposed this time of year that we need to correct and get better. So I think this stretch of games, although very challenging against very good teams – two of the four are away from home – we’re going to get a chance to find out more about our team, which I think is always good.”
Walker did not practice on Saturday and while he has not yet been ruled out for Monday night’s contest, even if he does play his minutes will likely be extremely limited. Hill is not close to getting back on the court and has an outside shot at returning on Dec. 10 against Kansas, a source close to the program told OnlyGators.com on Monday.
It also appears as if it is no longer a question of whether Florida will lose junior guard Eli Carter but rather when he will play his last game this season. Carter, still bothered by an ankle injury that occurred during rehab from a broken fibula he suffered last February, has been hobbled a great deal and barely able to run on the court let alone contribute during games. He will eventually take a redshirt.
“There is a cut-off date right now. I don’t know what the actual date is. But the guy is hurt right now. It’s been very, very difficult on him. He still has major problems inside of his ankle. That’s probably something that’s going to happen. We’ll go for that,” said Donovan about redshirting Carter. “But right now, I think he’s just trying to see – can he get better? The hard part, the frustrating part for him is we’ve kind of hit a stalemate with him in terms of his recovery where he’s not making the same level of progress he’s made maybe a month ago. That’s kind of slowed for him. …
“He’s got a lot of issues. He’s got a lot of scar tissue built up in his ankle, which has really limited his mobility in his ankle. He’s got strength issues. Structurally, he’s got some problems that he’s going to have to work though, however long it takes him to get that back. But it’s an unfortunate situation because he’s a great kid. I respect him an awful lot, just with the way he’s handled himself. He’s just trying to do whatever he can do. But as I said before, we’re not going to waste a year just to have him be a guy that’s going to spot somebody to give him a breather. I think he’s done too much in his career. We owe it to him to get him fully healthy and healed and ready to play.”
BREATH OF FRESH AIR
Wilbekin has played a huge role since seeing action and starting his first game of the season on Monday. He has averaged 6.6 more minutes per game than any other player on the team, and his 7.5 assists per contest are both a career-high and thrice as many as anyone else who will be active for the Huskies game.
“The fact of the matter is we’ve got six scholarship guys, that’s all we’ve got. So we’ve got to go with what we have, and if we can squeeze some minutes off to rest Scottie, [we will],” explained Donovan. “He’s certainly playing way too many minutes, the ball is in his hands way too much. There’s way too much on his shoulders, and it’s probably a little bit unfair to him but that’s what we have right now so we’re going to have to try to come up with ways with six guys to rest him a little bit more.”
It was quite obvious during Friday night’s game that Wilbekin was forcing things at times. He was putting shots up that he otherwise should have passed, driving into the lane and trying to finish rather than kicking the ball out on rotation and even lapsing in defense on occasion. Donovan does not blame him for these mistakes but nevertheless thinks he can do better going forward.
“I think the aggressive part was really good. I liked that. I didn’t like his decision making. And not that he turned it over, he got in the lane, but he took a couple of tough shots, in particular the first five or six minutes in the game,” he said. “[But] there were so many opportunities for him to move the basketball and find another guy. That was something we worked on [Saturday]. So it was good for him to see that on film.
“I think anytime you have a player that can get in the lane and into the teeth of the defense it always puts pressure on the defense. But from that point, you got to be able to make good decisions. And it’s wasn’t like he turned the ball over. I think he had eight assists and two turnovers. So he did take good care of the basketball. I thought our offense could have shot a much, much higher percentage had we made that [extra pass]. I thought we got a little bit impatient, Scottie in particular. He got down the lane and he was trying to score off the first drive where we could have got some things a little bit better if we had been more patient.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On dealing with UConn’s top-notch backcourt: “They really have three guys, you throw Omar Calhoun in there as well. They’ve got three really, really good guards, experienced guards. I would say that [Shabazz] Napier is without question one of the elite point guards in the country. But it’s not just him. … I think they have three guys they can put the ball in those guys’ hands and those guys are really able to make plays. They put a lot of pressure on your defense. It’s not going to be a game where we can ever just have one guy play those guys because they are going to be in a lot of pick-and-roll action and our big guys are going to have to do a good job of providing help. We’re going to have to do a good job of shrinking the floor and helping on rolls, and then obviously when shots go up, doing a good job of rebounding the basketball.”
» On what he took away after watching film of the Florida-FSU game: “The one thing I thought we did a really good job of offensively is we got into the lane, we got down the teeth of the defense, we got into the lane. Even though they didn’t necessarily block a lot of shots that led to fast breaks for them in transition, what we didn’t do is we really didn’t make the extra pass and find the next guy. … There was opportunities on the perimeter for us to exterior pass and put it on the floor again and put them into rotation. I thought we were maybe a little too easy to guard when we got into the lane. One guy got into the lane it was almost like that guy was going to score. It wasn’t necessarily bad shots, but inside that box that we mark off, we were like 37 percent. We missed a lot of shots in around the basket during the course of the game. I thought the game was won by us really on hustle plays and 50-50 balls and offensive rebounds. … I thought the offensive rebounding and the three-point shooting by [Michael] Frazier helped us. If there were two things to correct – one, having better vision on drives – and I thought we went through a period there around the eight minute mark … where we fouled entirely too much coming down the stretch.”
» On whether he is surprised by the emergence of and production from senior F Casey Prather: “I think this is the first time where I think the game’s slowed down for him. He’s playing with a clearer head and understanding. I think he’s a guy that probably, the first couple of years in his career was really painful for him. He was a deer in the headlights a lot of times. The lights came on and he was very unsure of himself. And I think for him this year, he’s got a better – he’s playing to his strengths, he’s not forcing shots, he’s not trying to make plays that aren’t there. He’s been a lot more productive and selective. And I think the fact that when you’re a player and you know you’re going to be on the floor, you know you’re going to be out there, sometimes it’s a little bit easier because you know you’re going to be there. When you’re a younger guy and you get into the game and you don’t know how long you’re going to be there – is it going to be based on how well I play, do I make a mistake, am I coming right out? There’s a lot more pressure you have to deal with. So I think for him it’s a little bit easier because he knows what we want and what we need from him and he’s been playing with good pace and good patience.”