UF Men's Basketball

Assists helping Gators to wins

Florida coach Billy Donovan has praised guard Erving Walker (pictured) for his hard work.

Matt Stamey/ Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 30, 2012 at 11:57 p.m.

Even during humbling losses at Rutgers and at Tennessee, Florida coach Billy Donovan said he never felt his team played selfishly.


Up next

Who: South Carolina at Florida
When: Thursday at 9 p.m.

But the key to Florida's current five-game streak has been its ability to share and take care of the ball. Florida, which moved two spots up to No. 12 in this week's AP poll, is leading the Southeastern Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.5-1.

In the last five games, UF's assist-to-turnover mark has been even better. The Gators have nearly two assists to every turnover (74-39), sharing the ball effectively while limiting mistakes.

With three new starters on the floor, Florida coach Billy Donovan said the improved ball movement of late has been a case of his team starting to develop some chemistry. Donovan is hopeful that chemistry will carry over when UF continues its three-game homestand Thursday night against South Carolina.

“When you have somewhat of a new team, it does take time to learn each other and get better with each other,” Donovan said. “I think that we've gotten better in that area, understanding who's open and how to better utilize each other.”

For now, UF's players have bought into the unselfish style of play. Point guard Erving Walker leads the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.5-1, while shooting guard Kenny Boynton is second at 2.3-1. Walker also leads the SEC in assists at 5.0 per game.

“So far it's been working,” Walker said. “We've been winning and that's the ultimate goal.”

Before the season, Donovan challenged Walker to lead the SEC in assists. Walker has dished 23 assists in his last four games, including 7 at South Carolina and 9 at Ole Miss.

“Erving is one of those guys that really tries to do the things I ask him to do,” Donovan said. “And there is that balance between him maintaining a level of aggressiveness.”

Donovan then relayed a story in which Mississippi State forwards were sagging off Walker on screen-and-rolls. Walker asked his coach if he had the green light to shoot. Donovan said he gave Walker the green light as long as he had a clean look at the basket.

“He's thinking about what's best for our team,” Donovan said. “I think Erving sees those things, that he knows there are going to be some times that he's going to need to be aggressive offensively and there is going to be some times where he is going to have to make everyone else better.”

That's led to more balanced scoring. The Gators have had at least three or more players reach double figures in scoring in each of their last four games. Six players scored in double-figures Jan. 14 at South Carolina and five players reached double figures Jan. 21 against LSU.

“Our backcourt guys and our perimeter players and post players have done a better job of making decisions and we've been unselfish,” Donovan said. “I never felt like our unselfishness was ever a problem. I thought that at times our decision making was a problem and I think the last few games we've gotten better.”

The better decision making also has translated into less turnovers, which have been an issue in UF's poor performances this season. Florida has averaged 17.3 turnovers per game in its four losses.

“These last four or five games, we've done a better job taking care of the basketball, and we'll have another challenge Thursday against South Carolina,” Donovan said. “They're a pretty disruptive team that gets their hands on a lot of balls, a lot of deflections. So you have to be good with your passing.”

FREE THROWS: Freshman forward Walter Pitchford will be out 10 to 14 days after suffering a sprained wrist in a scooter accident on Sunday. The 6-foot-10 Pitchford has appeared in just eight games this season, averaging 0.5 points per game and 0.3 rebounds per game. Pitchford last played for the Gators on Jan. 10 against Georgia, finishing with one blocked shot in one minute of action.

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