Florida vs. Savannah State preview: point guards improve, Young’s milestone, Walker’s status

(13) FLORIDA GATORS SAVANNAH ST. TIGERS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Horace Broadnax
Record: 9-2 Record: 2-10
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic

Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 11,548]
Time: 3:00 p.m. EST

TV: FOX Sports Florida (Dave Neal, Larry Conley)
SiriusXM: 91 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: ESPN3.com [Blackout Map] | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

Odds: OFF

HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS

» Florida is 2-0 all-time against Savannah State with the Gators most recently defeating the Tigers 58-40 just last season.
» UF is playing its first game at home in 19 days.
» The Gators are 62-9 since the beginning of the 2011-12 season when holding opponent under 71 points in a game.
» Florida is 4-2 this season in single-digit decisions after going 0-6 in such contests during the 2012-13 campaign.
» The Gators defeated top-15 teams in consecutive games for the fourth time in program history and first time ever in non-conference regular season play.
» Florida has won 22-straight non-conference games in the O’Dome and 21 consecutive home games overall, the second-longest streak in school history.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

The Gators are healthier than they’ve been all season and will have two extra bodies in practice during SEC play thanks to the addition of redshirt sophomore transfer Alex Murphy (who Florida announced will wear No. 31).

But the best way the Gators can improve immediately is to get more cohesive play from their point guards – senior Scottie Wilbekin and freshman Kasey Hill. Not only have suspensions (Wilbekin) and ankle injuries (both) kept Wilbekin and Hill from playing together, the ball-handlers also had limited time to practice together prior to last week.

“I think our chemistry can get a lot better,” said Hill on Saturday. “We’re going to start practicing a lot together. We haven’t really been on the floor much together [due to injuries], but I think it’s going to get a lot better.”


Improved play from both point guards will undoubtedly help pick up Florida’s assist totals, which are incredibly low at 12.5 per game, 212th in the nation. Donovan expressed his displeasure with how the Gators share the ball recently but noted how UF has been able to overcome the deficiency through the first 11 games of the 2013-14 season.

“The assist-to-turnover ratio is not that bad because I think we’re averaging like 10.9 turnovers per game, so we’re not turning the ball over at a drastic rate … But I think we’re getting [12.5] assists per game. That is a product, in my opinion, of us not utilizing each other well enough,” he said.

“We got to find each other in a better way. I think some of that is going to be those guys cohesively playing with one another. I think some of it has been having to play some different lineups. I’d like to see us get to a place where those assists are up between 16-22. I think that would be a good, realistic range. But we miss too many opportunities to take advantage of each other in different situations.”

REACHING FOR 1,000

Senior center Patric Young enters Sunday just 12 points away from a milestone as he looks to become the 50th player in school history to reach 1,000 points for his career.

Though not an offensive powerhouse by any means – Young admitted on Saturday that he has scored “inside our system, made hook shots and layups and dunks, that’s about it” – the accomplishment is still an incredible one.

Asked about Young approaching the milestone, Donovan instead chose to discuss how he has improved recently over Florida’s stretch of high-profile games.

“I think this is the most consistent he’s been since he’s been here. I think his effort’s been really good. I think this work ethic has been very good. At least the last week here, I’d say it’s the best I’ve seen him where he’s really chased basketballs off the backboard. I thought he’s been very, very aggressive keeping balls alive, trying to rebound out of his area,” Donovan said.

“Because of his size and strength, people don’t realize that in a lot of times in certain situations he gets double-teamed on blockouts. What it has done is freed up [other players] to go in there and rebound the basketball. That was my whole point with him is that when he makes that kind of concerted effort to go rebound – and he occupies one or two guys to keep them off the backboard – it’s going to free things up for others.”

CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR

Freshman forward Chris Walker will be held out of a third-straight game since officially enrolling in school and joining the Gators basketball team as he has not yet been cleared to compete by the NCAA.

“I haven’t heard anything right now. It’s in the hands of the NCAA. It’s in the hands of our university. I really do hope for his sake there can be some kind of timely decision cause certainly he’s here on campus, he’s cleared to practice, he’s not cleared to play right now,” Donovan said. “I’m just hopeful that our school, the NCAA can all get together and figure out a solution. … But hopefully we’ll be able to hear something soon.”

As OnlyGators.com first reported on Dec. 14, Walker was told upon achieving the necessary grades to enroll at UF that he should not expect to play until the new year. Florida’s first game of 2014 is set for Saturday, Jan. 4 against Richmond. Whether the NCAA grants him clearance by that date remains to be seen, but Walker should be on the court soon, ideally for UF no later than the Gators’ first SEC game on Wednesday, Jan. 8 against South Carolina.

Donovan on Saturday said he’s seen progress in Walker’s game and that practice has been a humbling experience for the five-star prospect. Walker has been testing his skills against older, more mature players but is nevertheless displaying a great attitude while doing so. “He’s starting to pick things up offensively and defensively. We’re starting to see some strides,” Donovan explained.

Hill also broke down the frustration level of his friend and former AAU teammate: “He seems like he’s fine. I don’t think it’s bothering him that much. He’s just happy to be here. But I think sooner or later it’ll start bothering him [if he doesn’t play]. … He’s a little behind on defense and stuff, but he just got here so you got to give him a little leeway. But he still looks like the same Chris.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on whether having four seniors on his roster has been an advantage this season: “Having four seniors has been helpful. We’re starting basically all four of those guys right now. I think [for the younger players] it’s been helpful. … It’s great, but I never really look at it that way. I look at it from this perspective: They’re seniors and they should know what they’re doing. There should be a higher level of accountability. I don’t look at it like: ‘OK, we have seniors, so therefore we have all this experience.’ It’s more a matter of: ‘What do we do with our experience? What do we do with the things we’ve been through as a team? How can we hold ourselves to a higher standard and be a little bit more accountable?’”

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