Walker helps Gators pound UAB


Florida Gators guard Erving Walker (11) drives past University of Alabama Birmingham Blazers guard Quincy Taylor (25) during the first half on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 8:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 8:49 p.m.

Florida senior point guard Erving Walker has been forced to learn when to pick his spots this season.

On Tuesday night, the 5-foot-8 Walker made the most of his opportunities. Scoring a team-high 23 points on just 12 shot attempts, Walker led the No. 13 Gators to a 79-61 win over UAB before 7,512 at the O’Connell Center.

The Gators shot a scorching 55.6 percent (15-27) from 3-point range.

Junior guard Kenny Boynton added 20 points and sophomore center Patric Young had 15 points and 7 rebounds before fouling out with 2:46 left.

Florida finished its non-conference schedule 12-3 and will open Southeastern Conference play on Saturday at Tennessee. The Gators went 0-3 on the road with losses at Ohio State, at Syracuse and at Rutgers.

“We have had our ups and downs this non-conference but overall I would say it’s a success,” Walker said. “We just haven’t won on the road so we got to prove to do that in conference play.”

Walker went 7-of-9 from 3-point range and added six assists. He moved past Greg Stolt into sole possession of fourth place on the UF career 3-point list with 250.

With more scorers on the UF roster, Florida coach Billy Donovan has asked Walker to become more of a distributor and selective shooter. It’s been a rocky process at times. Donovan questioned Walker’s shot selection in UF’s overtime win against Arizona and benched him for close to eight minutes against Yale after he took a wild off-balanced shot in the lane.

Against Yale, Walker had just four shot attempts.

“The thing I’m most pleased with tonight more than anything is that Erving Walker could take four shots last game and not be in the flow of the game and then he can come back in this game and score 23 points,” Donovan said.

Walker is second in the SEC in assists at 5.2 per game.

“It’s been a transition and it’s something I’ve been working at,” Walker said. “It’s been a work in progress and I just thank Coach Donovan for sticking with me and working with me.”

Boynton, meanwhile, had his ninth 20-point game of the season. He came into the UAB game second in the SEC in scoring at 19.4 points per game. With UAB protecting the paint and going under screens, Florida was able to get wide open looks from the perimeter and knock them down.

“With the way they were defending pick-and-rolls, they were almost daring us to shoot 3s,” Donovan said. “And it was a game where we shot it pretty well from behind the line.”

But while the Gators had a big day from perimeter, their play inside was more spotty. Florida was out-rebounded for the second straight game, allowing the Blazers to finish with a 36-34 edge on the boards. UAB converted 14 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points.

Starting center Cameron Moore led UAB with 15 points and power forward Ovie Soko added 13 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double.

“We’ve got to do a better job rebounding defensively,” Young said. “Every offensive rebound we give up it takes away our chance of getting into transition and that really takes away from our team.”

Donovan took some of the blame for his team’s recent rebounding woes, saying the Gators haven’t been able to hold full practices with players ailing during the holiday break. Reserve guard Mike Rosario sat out the UAB game with an ankle injury and forward Casey Prather was sent home from the pregame shoot-around with the flu.

“We’ve got to get better at that area there because we have proven against really good teams that we can rebound the ball,” Donovan said.

At one point in the first half, UAB had a 21-13 rebounding edge on the Gators.

“That’s what a lot of people were worried about saying we didn’t have much depth in the frontcourt and that rebounding would be a problem and defending the post would be a problem,” Young said. “We’ve proven we can do both of those things and it’s slipped away from us a little bit. But we’ll get back to it.”

Florida out-rebounded 10 of its first 12 opponents this season, including Texas A&M and Ohio State. Young said he expects Donovan to put the bubbles back over the rims in practice this week.

“He’s going to put that back up so we’re going to go back to being the rebounding team we can be,” Young said.

FREE THROWS: With a little over 10 minutes remaining in the game, the lights dimmed in the O’Connell due to a power surge on campus. Both Donovan and UAB coach Mike Davis agreed to continue the game. UAB was trailing 56-36 at the time. “Mike said to me, ’I’m OK if you want to end the game right now, we’ll go home, we’ll just get home a little earlier,’ ” Donovan said. “But I mean I thought it was well-lit enough for us to play and I had no problems playing.” … With six assists against UAB, Walker (456 career assists) passed Nick Calathes (452) for third on the UF career assist list. … Florida freshman guard Bradley Beal had a rough night scoring, going 2-of-15 from the field with just 5 points. But Beal had a decent floor game with 5 assists and 2 steals.

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