The Fastbreak: No. 7 Florida tops Auburn 68-61

The No. 7 Florida Gators (15-2, 4-0 SEC) escaped with a 68-61 road victory against the Auburn Tigers (8-7, 0-4 SEC) on Saturday afternoon at Auburn Arena in Auburn, AL, improving to 7-2 in single-digit decisions this season.

The Gators won their ninth-straight game and picked up a win for the 14th time in their last 15 contests. OnlyGators.com breaks it down with eight quick-hitters:

It was over when: Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, with less than 90 seconds to play and his team leading by one, hit a step-back jumper to give the Gators some breathing room. On the next two offensive possessions, Wilbekin struggled at the line but still drained two of four free throws to boost his team’s advantage to five points. He wrapped things up with 16 points (2-for-2 from downtown, 6-for-8 from the charity stripe), three boards and a dime. The Tigers never scored again.

“I was happy he put some pressure at the basket,” said head coach Billy Donovan after the game. “He made a tough shot in the lane.”

Prominent players: Returning from a bone bruise on his knee that forced him to miss two games, senior forward Casey Prather went off, scoring a game-high 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He hit 5-of-7 free throws and grabbed six boards with an assist and steal rounding out his stat line on the afternoon.

“I didn’t really know what to expect out of him,” Donovan said. “[Limited minutes] went out the window at the half when he had 16. He was clearly going to play a lot more minutes – he played so well. I’m not so sure, if he was hurt again this game, if this was a game we could’ve pulled out.”

Senior center Patric Young was ineffective in the first half but came on strong in the latter 20 minutes, finishing with 13 points and six boards. He went 5-for-8 from the floor and registered two big blocks including one with 25 seconds to play and his team only leading by four points at the time.

Check out the second half of The Fastbreak after the…break.
Continue Reading » The Fastbreak: No. 7 Florida tops Auburn 68-61

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No. 7 Florida at Auburn preview: Prather cleared

Location: Auburn Arena – Auburn, AL [Capacity: 9,121]
Date/Time: Saturday at 4:00 p.m. EST

TV: SEC Network (Joe Davis, Joe Dean) [Affiliates]
SiriusXM: 136/200 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: ESPN3.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

(7) FLORIDA GATORS AUBURN TIGERS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Tony Barbee
Record: 14-2 (3-0 SEC) Record: 8-6 (0-3 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -8

HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS

» Auburn actually leads Florida 87-73 in the all-time series, but the Gators boast an 18-4 record under Donovan. UF has won five-straight against AU, 15 of the last 16 and seven in a row on the road.
» The two teams will square off in a home-and-home series this season for the first time since 1991. Florida won both games by a combined five points.
» The Gators on Tuesday broke program record for longest home winning streak. UF has now won 25-straight games in the O’Dome dating back to last season when it went undefeated in its home gym. The streak is the third-longest nationally.
» Florida is on an eight -game winning streak and has won 13 of its last 14 games.
» The Gators are 66-9 since the beginning of the 2011-12 season when holding an opponent under 71 points in a game.
» Florida is 6-2 this season in single-digit decisions after going 0-6 in such contests during the 2012-13 campaign. UF is also 1-0 in overtime games.
» 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 is 2-2 against ranked opponents this season with both losses coming in true road games and the victories occurring in a home contest and neutral-site game.
» The Gators on Tuesday used their seventh different starting lineup in 16 games.
» UF is 1-2 in true road games this season.

INJURY UPDATES

Donovan started off by announcing that senior forward Casey Prather, who has missed consecutive games with a “pretty significant” bone bruise and fluid build-up in his knee, was cleared to do contact work on Friday. However, even if Prather plays, he will likely be on a minutes limit. “I’ll have a better feel for what he can do after practice,” Donovan said, “but he’s cleared to practice and cleared to play in the game.”

He also noted that senior center Patric Young is still battling tendinitis in his knee and has missed some practice time to give his joints a break.

“He’s a veteran guy. He’s an experienced guy. I’m certainly not going to sit him out of an entire practice. He doesn’t have what Will Yeguete has where Will Yeguete legitimately needs a day off from time to time, which we’ll provide to him,” explained Donovan. “But Patric needs to do a good job communicating, where maybe cut down some of his reps in practice. Maybe instead of being out there for every single rep, he’s out there for half the reps. … He’s very, very conscientious in terms of getting treatment, rehab, trying to stay on it. But he’s got to do a better job communicating what he’s feeling, what he’s experiencing at a given time.”

Young has no concerns going forward: “[My knees] feel pretty good. Ready to go.”

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Florida-Auburn, Prather’s impact, Boynton climbs

No. 6/7 FLORIDA GATORS AUBURN TIGERS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Tony Barbee
Record: 20-3 (10-1 SEC) Record: 9-15 (3-8 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Location: Auburn Arena – Auburn, AL [Capacity: 9,121]
Time: 1:30 p.m. EST

TV: SEC Network (Clay Matvick, Joe Dean) [Affiliates]
SiriusXM: 93/200 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: ESPN3.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter and SportsYapper app

Odds: TBD | O/U TBD

NOT-SO-GREAT MEMORIES AT AUBURN

Taking on Auburn this Saturday in a game that is sure to have plenty of good seats available, Florida is looking to win its fifth-straight contest in the series and 15th in the last 16 meetings between the two teams.

And while the Tigers do hold a 87-72 all-time record against the Gators, head coach Billy Donovan has dominated Saturday’s hosts by winning 17 of the 21 games he has coached including six of eight at Auburn.

However, the last time Florida came to town (Jan. 20, 2011), it was truly anyone’s game. The Gators shot 28.3 percent from the field and 19.2 percent from downtown, needing eight-straight points to come back from a three-point deficit with two minutes left.

Reflecting back on that game during a media availability on Thursday, Donovan said an overriding lesson can be learned from how the team persevered that day.

“What it shows is when you’re playing in a league, regardless of who you’re playing against, if you don’t come out and you don’t play well, it’s really, really hard to win. That was probably a game for us that we were fortunate to win,” he said. “Almost being three years ago, I don’t know what we take from that game in particular just because I think both teams are different. But at the same point, that game is no different than right now any game you play. You have to come in and you really have to play well because if you don’t play well, it’s hard to win.”

With a starting lineup featuring four seniors and one junior, Florida’s experience can help it overcome many – but not all – of the obstacles teams face during the season.

“Our guys have been through a lot in terms of their own personal experiences playing,” Donovan said. “Those guys have been through a lot, and I think that they know what to expect. With all that being said, if you don’t come and you don’t play well, it doesn’t make a difference how much experience you have.”

Continue Reading » Florida-Auburn, Prather’s impact, Boynton climbs

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1/20: Confidence helps Gators overcome offense

The Florida Gators (14-4, 3-1 SEC) escaped a potentially resume-killing loss Thursday night at the Auburn Arena, defeating the Southeastern Conference bottom-dwelling Auburn Tigers (7-11, 0-4 SEC) 45-40 on their brand new home court. Though Florida shot an abysmal 28.3 percent from the field (15-of-43) and 19.2 percent from downtown (5-of-26), two late treys by sophomore guard Kenny Boynton and junior point guard Erving Walker propelled them to victory.

FEWEST POINTS SCORED UNDER DONOVAN

Leading teams that have heavily relied on the three-pointer throughout his entire career, Gators head coach Billy Donovan has seen some poor offensive performances before. Unfortunately for Donovan, his Florida team made history Thursday evening by posting the lowest point total in his coaching career at the university. “I don’t know if I have ever been a part of a game sitting on the sidelines as a player or coach watching us struggle to shoot the ball as badly as we did tonight,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”

“Unbelievable” may not be the best word to describe UF’s shooting, especially considering they are currently 82nd in the nation in field goal percentage (45.9%) this season. Granted 28.3 percent is laughingly poor, but Florida posted a similar number in the first half of their game against then-No. 5 Kansas State on Dec. 18 and went through a seven-game stretch over a three-week period without once reaching 70 points.

PENETRATION CAN BE A GOOD THING

Teams this year have had great success at defeating the Tigers by pounding the ball down low and out-maneuvering them in the post. The Gators, which likely set their game plan to follow a similar formula, were unable to follow suit because Auburn was collapsing inside and forcing Florida to take wide-open outside shots. With UF shooting only 34.1 percent from downtown as a team this season, the game plan worked for AU because the Gators simply could not knock anything down.

Walker, who blamed Auburn’s “sagging in the lane” as the reason “it was tough to get the ball inside and penetrate,” has had trouble doing so his entire career due to his diminutive stature. Where Florida failed on Thursday and has made a mistake this season is not forcing Boynton – or better yet senior forward Chandler Parsons – to drive the lane and at least get to the line for some free throws.

“We missed some bunnies around the basket, and [Auburn] left our perimeter guys to shoot the ball,” Donovan said. “We just could not make a shot.”

Instead of creating any opportunities inside, UF brought the ball up court, passed it around the perimeter and often times jacked up a three with plenty of time remaining on the shot clock. When the Gators did get the ball inside, redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin, senior F Alex Tyus and freshman C Patric Young were surrounded by defenders who were able to stay on them due to a lack of ball movement.

STAYING CONFIDENT IS IMPORTANT

Donovan has known since the beginning of the season that this year’s squad is simply not an effective and consistent shooting team. That being said, he has made an effort both in practice and while speaking to the media to explain that his No. 1 priority is helping his players remain confident in the face of adversity.

“This was a terrible shooting display by us, but we hung in there,” Walker said after the game. “We are shooters, but we need to shoot with confidence.” His teammate agreed. “I knew for our team all I needed was for one to fall,” Boynton added. “We’ve been in this position many times, and if that shot doesn’t fall, we’re in a scramble, we have to get a stop. So I just wanted to keep us in the game.”

As poor as Florida shot the ball, the confidence of their backcourt starters was paramount in the game’s final two minutes. “Give Walker and Boynton credit at the end of the game,” Donovan said. “They still had enough confidence to step up and shoot the ball and knock down two big shots, but it was a hard game sitting over there watching our team offensively.”

DEFENSE WINS CLOSE GAMES…BUT DID IT WIN THIS ONE?

Pulling out the victory, the Gators hung their hat on their defense as the reason they were able to keep the game close even through an awful offensive output. “Our defense won the game for us tonight,” Boynton said. Donovan added, “The thing that gets lost in the game is the fact that we really defended. I think we talked about that. Our defensive numbers had slipped a little bit, and we knew coming in here it was going to be a grind.”

While Florida did defend well, they immediately gave up a lead (or tie) on the following possession four times in the second half and their performance in that aspect of the game was nothing special considering…

Auburn shot 37.5 percent from the floor on Thursday; they are 314th in the country in field goal percentage at 39.6 percent this season. The Tigers have scored under 60 points nine times already and only average 62.7 points per game. What actually doomed Auburn was something that UF had nothing to do with – their free throw shooting. Normally hitting 65.2 percent of their shots from the charity stripe, the Tigers were only 1-of-8 from the line (12.5 percent) on Thursday.

Special thanks to Kevin Brockway for the quotes used in the above post.

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Inept offense nearly dooms Florida at Auburn

Posting the worst offensive performance since head coach Billy Donovan took over the team 15 years ago, the Florida Gators (14-4, 3-1 SEC) squeaked past the Auburn Tigers (7-11, 0-4 SEC) 45-40 on the road at the brand new Auburn Arena Thursday.

Equally inefficient in both halfs, Florida shot 28.3 percent from the field (15-of-53) and 19.2 percent from downtown (5-of-26). Luckily for the Gators, they limited a similarly poor-shooting Tigers squad to 37.5 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from beyond the arc. Auburn also failed to capitalize on their free throw attempts, hitting only 1-of-8 from the charity stripe, while Florida was a surprising 10-for-14 from the line including 6-for-7 in the first half.

The Gators led for the first 7:20 of the game until the Tigers took off on a 10-0 run to go up 18-11. Florida turned the ball over nine times in the first half, missed 14 of their last 16 shots and trailed Auburn 24-23 in what looked to be their worst start to a game this season since posting only 20 points against then-No. 5 Kansas State on Dec. 18.

UF started the second half in similar fashion, missing their first eight shots from downtown, first three from the charity stripe and 12 of their first 16 attempts.

Junior point guard Erving Walker ‘s three-pointer with 7:16 remaining in the game gave the Gators a 35-34 lead that was handed back on a wide-open dunk just one play later. Trying to keep Florida in the game with a high-energy effort, senior forward Alex Tyus was sent to the line and made two free throws to put UF up 37-36 with 4:17 left; once again the Gators handed the lead right back to the Tigers allowing them to score four-straight points to take a 40-37 lead.

Down three with 2:08 to go, Donovan took a 30 second timeout; sophomore guard Kenny Boynton nailed a trey on the following possession to tie the game at 40. Walker then stepped up with three consecutive plays that wound up sealing the game.

Stealing the ball on an inbounds play with 1:20 left, Walker drained a three. On the next possession he drew a charge in the paint to give the ball back to Florida. He wound up taking an ill-advised jump shot and turning the ball over on the next possession but would hit two free throws to ice the contest and conclude a game-ending 8-0 run.

Walker wound up leading UF with a game-high 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting. Senior F Chandler Parsons and redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin each grabbed a game-high six rebounds helping their team out-rebound the opposition 34-27.

Florida hopes to turn things around on Saturday as they return home to face Arkansas at 8 p.m. The game will air live on FSN.

Photo Credit: Todd J. Van Emst/Associated Press

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