No. 9 Florida opens season with 77-60 win


Florida's Alex Tyus, right, makes a fast pass to teammate Vernon Macklin, left, during the first half of Florida's season opener against UNC Wilmington at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida on Friday, November 12, 2010.

Aaron Daye/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, November 12, 2010 at 9:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 12, 2010 at 9:11 p.m.

Freshman point guard Scottie Wilbekin said he doesn't think about the fact that under normal circumstances, he should be playing in his senior year of high school.

“Not really,” Wilbekin said. “Unless someone brings it up to me.”

Wilbekin provided a spark off the bench in No. 9 Florida's 77-60 season-opening win over UNC Wilmington on Friday night at the O'Connell Center. Playing 17 minutes, the 17-year-old Wilbekin finished with three points, five assists and had four of UF's 12 steals.

“Scottie I thought played very, very well,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I felt like after the first couple of weeks of practice that he was gonna be a guy that's gonna play for us and be able to be pretty helpful. It's pretty impressive I think what he's done in a lot of respects being a senior in high school and he's playing and he's pretty effective.”

Florida (1-0) overcame some early shooting woes to win its 20th straight season-opener. Senior Chandler Parsons led four UF players in double figures with 16 points. Alex Tyus added 13 points and 7 rebounds, Erik Murphy scored 10 points and sophomore guard Kenny Boynton had 10 points despite going 0-of-6 from 3-point range.

Led by an all-senior starting frontline, the Gators out-rebounded UNC Wilmington 36-22. Florida shot 49.1 percent from the floor and 31.6 percent (6-19) from 3-point range.

“We were a little rushed offensively in the first half, certainly in the first 10 minutes,” Donovan said. “Our first two possessions were turnovers. I thought the press for us was a little more effective.”

Wilbekin, a Gainesville native, scored his first career points on a three-point play that tied that score at 11. But it was his defensive intensity that impressed teammates.

“It started with his defense,” Boynton said. “He played with great energy and really made it hard for them to bring the ball up the court.”

Wilbekin graduated after his junior year at The Rock School in Gainesville. As a junior, he was named The Sun's Class 1A-2A player of the year after averaging 19 points, five assists and five rebounds per game.

Wilbekin said he didn't know how many friends and family members were at the O-Dome to watch him play. But signs of “Go Scottie” were sprinkled throughout the crowd.

“I really didn't know how many minutes I was going to play,” said Wilbekin, who missed UF's second preseason game with a strained neck. “I just came out with the mindset that I was going to play as hard as I can and do what coach tells me.”

The Gators started slow, making just two of their first nine shots. But Florida's press created havoc throughout the first half. Florida scored 14 points off 12 UNC Wilmington turnovers to build a 37-26 halftime lead.

To start the second half, the Gators came out with more intensity, pounding the ball inside more to Vernon Macklin and Tyus. Macklin, who is dealing with a tendinitis issue in his right knee, scored seven of his nine points in the second half.

“I thought in the first four minutes we set a pretty good tone for our team,” Donovan said. “And a tone that we didn't give up a lot of easy baskets.”

Florida led by as many as 24 points in the second half before Donovan turned the game over to the freshmen in the closing minutes. The Gators will next play No. 4 Ohio State on Tuesday at the O'Connell Center, a huge early test.

“That's going to be our whole focus from now until Tuesday,” Parsons said. “We can't afford to let up. We know there are still plenty of things that we need to work on.”

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

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