Walker helps Donovan claim 300th win
Published: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 10:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 10:13 p.m.
AUBURN, Ala. — Florida freshman guard Erving Walker battled a cold before Wednesday night’s game against Auburn.
“I’m dying,” Walker said, shaking his head. “My throat’s sore. I’m a little drained, but I’m going to be alright.”
Walker, who aspires to be a doctor one day, provided a cure to Florida’s slumping second-half offense. Making clutch back-to-back 3-pointers in the game’s final four minutes, the 5-foot-7 Walker helped Florida escape with a 68-65 win over the Tigers at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
Win No. 300 at Florida for coach Billy Donovan wasn’t a Picasso, but the Gators (15-2, 2-0 SEC) extended their modest winning streak to nine games. Credit an assist to Auburn, which went a horrendous 10-for-21 from the free-throw line and missed four straight critical free throws down the stretch.
“Coach told us that games in the SEC weren’t always going to be pretty,” Walker said.
Florida had 17 turnovers to 11 assists and shot just 21.7 percent (5-23) from 3-point range.
“Certainly, if someone reminds me of it I’ll remember it as a night when both teams struggled offensively,” Donovan said.
Nick Calathes led Florida with 17 points, but had six turnovers to five assists. Alex Tyus added a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds and freshman center Kenny Kadji had a nice game off the bench with 11 points and eight rebounds in 16 minutes.
Auburn (10-5, 0-2) got a team-high 15 points off the bench from senior Rasheem Barrett.
Walker had nine points, starting his flurry with a 3-pointer to put Florida ahead 54-52 with 4:03 remaining. Barrett answered with a 3-pointer to put Auburn back up 55-54, but Florida found Walker again for a big 3-pointer with 3:43 left to put Florida ahead to stay 57-55.
What followed was a ragged stretch of missed shots and free throws, before senior Walter Hodge hit a big 3-pointer in the left corner with 1:12 left to extend the UF lead to 60-55.
“Walker’s two 3s I thought helped stave off (Auburn’s) momentum,” Donovan said. “And certainly Walter’s shot at the end of the game was big for us.”
After scoring 40 first-half points, the Gators scored just eight points in the first 12 minutes of the second half, allowing Auburn to get back in the game. Barrett tied the score at 48 with a pair of free throws and gave Auburn its first lead, 50-48, on an inside layup with 7:21 remaining.
Calathes answered with a 3-pointer for Florida, but Barrett responded with a jumper to give Auburn a 52-51 lead.
That set the stage for Walker’s heroics.
“In a situation like that you’re just trying to make a play, trying to do something positive for your team,” said Walker, who finished with nine points and two assists.
Said Calathes: “We have all sorts of confidence in him. Those were huge shots. And Walt’s one at the end was big for us.”
Florida broke out the black jerseys for its first SEC road game of the season and set a more physical tone. After getting outrebounded by 24 in its SEC opener last Saturday against Ole Miss, Florida outrebounded Auburn 46-36 and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds.
“We were just trying to be more active around the basket,” Tyus said.
Florida attacked the rim early, scoring seven of its first 10 baskets in the paint. Kadji was active inside, finishing the half with nine points and four rebounds.
Auburn missed its first 12 3-point attempts before guard DeWayne Reed's 3-pointer with 36.8 seconds left cut the Florida lead to 38-32. Tyus answered with a pair of free throws, but Reed made two free throws with 9.2 seconds left to cut the Florida lead to 40-34 at halftime.
Reed had 13 points and senior Korvotney Barber had 14 points for Auburn. The Tigers were as dismal as Florida from the perimeter, shooting just 18.5 percent (5-27) from 3-point range.
“Our shooting was so bad, I don’t know how we were in this game,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said.
FREE THROWS: Florida needed the lift from Kadji because freshman Allan Chaney was kept home from the game due to back spasms. The Florida training staff is hoping with additional rest Chaney will be available for Saturday’s game against Arkansas. ... Freshman forward Eloy Vargas appeared in his first SEC game, finishing with two points and two rebounds in two minutes near the end of the first half.
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