The No. 16 Florida Gators (8-2) picked up yet another signature victory with a hard-fought 77-75 win over the No. 15 Memphis Tigers (7-2) on Tuesday night as part of the 2013 Jimmy V. Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY. Head coach Billy Donovan met with the media following the game to discuss Florida’s performance.
HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS
» Florida improved to 2-0 all-time against Memphis and 5-3 under Donovan in Madison Square Garden, the World’s Most Famous Arena.
» The Tigers were the fourth and final ranked opponent the Gators were scheduled to face in non-conference action. UF is 2-2 in those games with both losses coming in true road games against teams currently ranked in the top 10 nationally.
» Memphis was 3-0 in neutral site games this season before falling to Florida.
» UF improved to 6-4 against top 25-ranked opponents dating back to last season with all four of its losses coming away from home.
» The Tigers became the first team since March 4, 2012 to score 70 or more points against the Gators in a regular-season contest.
» Florida defeated a ranked opponent away from its home court for the first time since Dec. 17, 2011 (vs. Texas A&M in Sunrise, FL).
» The Gators improved to 4-2 this season in single-digit decisions after going 0-6 in such contests during the 2012-13 campaign.
ON ANOTHER LEVEL
Senior forward Casey Prather is playing 13 more minutes and scoring 12.5 more points per game this season than he did during the 2012-13 campaign. He’s improved his free throw shooting by 17 percent, is averaging 2.2 more rebounds per contest and is even shooting nearly six percent better from beyond the arc.
Prather averages a team-high 18.7 points, leading the next-best scorer on the team by 6.1 points per game. His 5.9 rebound average are second-most on the squad, and his 2.1 assists per game are third-most. In other words, at this point in the season, there is no more important player on the court for Florida.
“I’m just trying to play as aggressive as I can, each and every possession. We have a great team, great players, great coaching staff. I’m just trying to do whatever needs to be done for the team,” he said after Tuesday night’s game, one in which he scored a game-high 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
Prather scored the Gators’ last eight points of the game and hit all six of his free throws including four in the final 1:20.
“I was just trying to be smart on offense, be as aggressive as I can. The ball just happened to find me. It could’ve been any other of my teammates,” he said.
While impressed, Donovan is not overly surprised with Prather’s uptick in production because he understands exactly how and why things have unfolded the way they have for the player over the course of his career.
“I thought as a freshman and sophomore he was so consumed with his jump shot. That’s all he wanted to do. Where there were probably seven or eight things he did better than shooting the basketball,” he explained. “If you look at him now, he’s not a high-volume three-point shooter. He slashes to the basket, he offensive rebounds, he gets on the break, he can go off the dribble, he can play off the bounce, and he’s playing to his strengths instead of trying to prove that he can overcome his weaknesses. It’s the first time I think he’s playing with a clear head and a clear mind.”
OVERCOME THE ADVERSITY ON THE COURT
Injuries, ailments and suspensions have held Florida back a bit this season, so there is no question that the Gators being 8-2 at this point with back-to-back victories over top-25 opponents is an indication of just how high this team’s ceiling can be by tournament time. Donovan is happy to finally have a full compliment of players on the court, and it obviously showed with the way UF played on Tuesday night.
“This past week … was probably something that was well-needed for our team. … This has really kind of been, to be honest with you, the first week we’ve had as a team where we’ve had nine or 10 players that have been healthy, eligible to play. We’ve kind of been able to get a little bit better,” he said.
“I didn’t think tonight was one of our better games; I didn’t think we played great tonight. We found a way to win and that’s always a positive. … To be able to find a way to win with the stretch we’ve had, these four games … I think these games have helped us get better. Even in a lot of these games, we haven’t had a full complement of players. So hopefully we can get better.”
In an effort to provide an additional perspective on the Gators’ offensive success on Tuesday against the Tigers, OnlyGators.com reached out to former Florida team manager Kyle Gilreath, who now works for Fast Model Sports and runs an interesting basketball blog Words on the Bounce. Gilreath diagrammed an oft-used play – Rhoadie – that worked over and over on Tuesday.
Florida ran this play four-straight times late in the second half against Memphis and saw a lot of success. It has been one of Donovan’s go-to plays already this year. The goal is to execute in the last frame of action, getting 2 (freshman PG Kasey Hill) to screen 4 (senior F Will Yeguete) into a middle pick-and-roll with 1 (senior PG Scottie Wilbekin). By having Hill screen Yeguete into the ball screen, the defender is forced to arrive late, creating space for Wilbekin to come off and find his own shot.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Leading by four with 40 seconds to play, redshirt sophomore F Dorian Finney-Smith went to the line to extend UF’s lead but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Wilbekin did the same 22 seconds later with Florida only ahead by two points with 18 seconds left in the game. The Gators continue to leave points at the line at the end of games, a trend that could haunt them as the season progresses.
» Donovan on freshman point guard Kasey Hill’s rough first half: “I did not think that Kasey Hill played well at all in the first half. I thought he drove in there aimlessly, he took some very difficult shots, shots got blocked, he turned the ball over. … It was a great eye-opening lesson for Kasey Hill because those senior guards, in the first half, totally dominated him. It’s a great wake-up call for him to see how much further he’s got to go.
» Donovan on freshman F Chris Walker: “People keep talking about him like he’s getting eligible and he’s going to be the savior to our team. He’s a high school player who hasn’t played competitive basketball since the end of February last year. He’s got such a long road to go to even catch up to what we’re running on offense, what we’re doing on defense.”
» Donovan on Walker’s first three days of practice*: “I think the first thing right now is, right now he came in, he’s 6-foot-10, he weighs 203 pounds. Two hundred and three pounds. He just got absolutely annihilated by Patric Young for three days. It was a very humbling experience for him. He has no chance of stepping on the floor and even remotely helping us in a game, and it’s not his fault. He hasn’t played. He has the potential to be a very, very good player, but he is so lost and so far behind. The thing I admire most about him is that kid has fought his tail off to get here and that’s the thing I admire about him.”
@ONLYGATORS TWEET OF THE GAME
Fastbreak layup for Yeguete coming off a nice pass in transition from Hill. Jekell and Hyde night for Hill thus far.
— OnlyGators.com (@onlygators) December 18, 2013