Walker, Downey prove size isn't everything


Florida's Erving Walker drives around South Carolina's Devan Downey during a game at the O'Connell Center on Feb. 3, 2009. Downey scored 33 points in the 97-93 loss to Florida.

The Associated Press
Published: Friday, January 22, 2010 at 11:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 22, 2010 at 11:40 p.m.

Little guys, big shots.

Facts

Today's game

Who: Florida Gators (13-5, 2-2 SEC) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (11-7, 2-2 SEC)
When: 6 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center
TV: ESPN
Radio: 103.7 FM, AM-850

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Fr. 14.7 ppg, 3.3 apg
G Erving Walker 5-8 So. 12.8 ppg, 4.9 apg
F Chandler Parsons 6-9 Jr. 10.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg
F Alex Tyus 6-8 So. 11.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg
C Vernon Macklin 6-10 Jr. 10.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg

KEY RESERVES
F Dan Werner 6-8 Sr. 6.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg
G Ray Shipman 6-4 So. 3.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg
F Erik Murphy 6-9 Fr. 3.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg

SOUTH CAROLINA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Brandis Raley-Ross 6-2 Sr. 10.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg
G Devan Downey 5-9 Sr. 21.2 ppg, 3.8 apg
F Lakeem Jackson 6-5 Fr. 7.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg
F Evaldas Baniulus 6-7 Sr. 3.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg
C Sam Muldrow 6-9 Jr. 9.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg

KEY RESERVES
F Austin Steed 6-8 Jr. 4.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg
G Ramon Galloway 6-1 Fr. 8.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg
F Johndre Jefferson 6-9 Jr. 3.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg

THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Battle on the boards
Florida flashed some muscle in its 71-66 win over Arkansas. The Gators outrebounded the Razorbacks 41-29, and scored 12 second-chance points off 17 offensive rebounds. Look for Florida to crash the boards again against an undersized South Carolina frontline. The Gamecocks rank last in the SEC in rebounding margin at minus-4.2.

2. On the break
Both Florida and South Carolina like to play up-tempo. But Florida won the transition battle against Arkansas, outscoring the Razorbacks in fast break points 14-0. The Gators will need to keep South Carolina point guard Devan Downey in front of them. With apologies to Kentucky freshman John Wall, Downey is still probably the fastest guard in the league with the ball in his hands.

3. Tired legs
How will Florida handle the fatigue factor of returning home on Saturday after playing a Thursday night road game at Arkansas? Florida will have just one practice to prepare for South Carolina. This could be a game where Ray Shipman and Erik Murphy play more prominent roles off the bench. Don't be surprised to even see walk-on guard Kyle McClanahan in a pinch.

THREE QUESTIONS
1. How well can the Gators contain South Carolina point guard Devan Downey?

2. Will Florida be able to recover physically and mentally from a one-day turn-around after a big road win Thursday night against Arkansas?

3. Can the Gators exploit South Carolina's undersized frontline?

That sums up what South Carolina point guard Devan Downey and Florida point guard Erving Walker have meant to their respective teams.

When Florida hosts South Carolina today at the O'Connell Center, it will feature a matchup of two of the hottest guards in the Southeastern Conference.

The 5-foot-9 Downey has scored at least 25 points in each of his first four league games. For the season, Downey leads the SEC in scoring (21.2 ppg) and steals (3.28 spg).

“He's just so fast,” Florida junior forward Chandler Parsons said. “You watch him on film and you see that he's fast, but you can't compare it until you actually guard him.”

Downey combines his quick first step off the dribble with deep shooting range. Last season at the O'Connell Center, Downey single-handedly kept South Carolina in the game, scoring 33 points during an eventual 97-93 Florida win. Downey went 7-for-9 from 3-point range, including a few fall-away 3-pointers in the closing minutes.

“He can shoot very, very deep 3-point shots,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He has a great pull-up game when he gets in the lane and when he stops he can step back on you. He's got a high release that's very hard to get to.

“And then he is a guy to me at his size that becomes a bigger player when he gets into the lane. He gets fouled, he gets to the rim, he finishes. He's really got a game where offensively there's not a whole lot of weaknesses.”

Asked whether the best game plan was to take away Downey's driving ability or shooting ability, Donovan replied: “Right now, it doesn't make a difference. I think he's a guy that's getting 31 a game (in SEC play) and he's going to get shots, he's going to take shots. A lot of times as the defense goes you are at his mercy in terms of when he decides to do what he wants to do.”

For as well as Downey has played in SEC play, the 5-foot-8 Walker has been as effective for Florida.

Walker is shooting 59.3 percent (16-for-27) from 3-point range in four SEC games. In his career-high 27-point game Thursday night against Arkansas, Walker was as steady running the team, with four assists and no turnovers. Walker's assist-to-turnover ratio is 20 to 6 in SEC play.

“I think Erving is learning,” Donovan said. “I think the first time being a point guard at this level, there was a lot of growth he had to go through. Last year he was primarily a spot-up shooter for us. And then this year, now, what he's doing is he's learning when to drive, when not to drive, when to try to go all the way to the rim, when not to go to the rim, when he's got to pull up, when he's got to make a pass.”

In the five games before SEC play began, Walker shot just 25.9 percent (14-54) from the floor and 19.2 percent (5-26) from 3-point range.

“Earlier in the year part of the reason his shooting percentage was so low is I thought he tried to make things by drawing fouls, took a lot of very difficult, off-balanced shots,” Donovan said. “I think he's eliminated some of those shots which has enabled him to be a more efficient point guard.”

Walker also attributed some of his better shooting to some mechanical adjustments. Walker has been effective scoring off the dribble of late, including pull-up jumpers from 12-15 feet.

“Off the dribble, you just try to get calm with your legs, just focus on going straight up and straight down,” Walker said.

Walker kept Florida in the game in the first half against Arkansas, scoring 15 of UF's 28 first-half points.

“Last night, when the ball was in his hands and we really needed a bucket, he really came through for us,” Parsons said.

Though Downey is one of the few point guards Walker matches up well with from a size standpoint, Walker is wary of the problems that Downey presents.

“He can get his shot off on anybody,” Walker said. “Even though he's short, he gets in the lane and just makes plays. I mean he's really crafty with the ball.”

It's a big reason why Downey was named the preseason All-SEC first team point guard. Walker will have a chance to make another impression tonight on a national stage against one of the top point guards in the country.

“I'm looking forward to all of the games, just to keep getting wins,” Walker said. “But personally Devan Downey is a great player and you always look forward to the challenge. That will be a good challenge.”

FREE THROWS: Donovan said that Parsons will remain in the starting lineup ahead of senior forward Dan Werner. Werner, who had a string of 70 straight starts snapped last week against LSU, has lost nine pounds and and is still suffering from flu-like symptoms. But Donovan hinted that the move could become a permanent change. “Right now I think it's been going fine over the last two games, so my intention is to start Chandler again,” Donovan said. “Right now, quick turnaround I don't think there's any need to change. Dan gave us good minutes off the bench, he's a senior. I think he understands what he needs to do, what his role is. He's important to our team. I don't think Dan is really concerned about that. I think Dan as a senior just wants to do whatever he can to help the team to the best of his ability.” ... Donovan said he decided to have his team fly back Friday morning via charter to get some extra rest. Had the Gators flown back Thursday night after the game, they would have not returned to Gainesville until close to 4 a.m. “I don't know how much sleep we got last night but at least it was a game where when the game was over with they were able to get themselves to bed at a decent hour,” Donovan said. ... A return this season isn't looking promising for sophomore center Kenny Kadji. Kadji is still awaiting a third back injection and Donovan said surgery to repair the herniated discs in his back is becoming a more likely option. “There hasn't been much progress,” Donovan said.

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at gatorsports.com.

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