Gators defense key to wins

Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin guards Norfolk State Spartans Jamel Fuentes during the second half in Omaha, Neb on Sunday, March 18, 2012.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 12:13 a.m.

OMAHA, Neb. — What separates college basketball teams in March is their ability to defend, both in the halfcourt and fullcourt.

Florida is playing at a higher level defensively heading into its showdown with Marquette on Thursday in Phoenix in the Sweet 16 (10:17 p.m. TBS). In storming through Omaha, Florida held Virginia and Norfolk State to an average of 47.5 points per game in its first two NCAA Tournament games.

“A lot of people think we aren't as good of a defensive team that we're more of an offensive team that's predicated on the 3-point shot,” Florida sophomore center Patric Young said. “But we proved that the last two games against Virginia and tonight that we can play really great defense.”

Florida coach Billy Donovan said he thought defense keyed UF's 25-0 first-half run against Norfolk State.

“We rebounded the basketball,” Donovan said. “I thought at the ending of plays, when shots went up, we needed to rebound the ball.”

Florida also sprinkled in the press throughout wins against Virginia and Norfolk State. The Gators scored an average of 18 points off turnovers in both wins. In halfcourt defense, Florida held Virginia to 38.3 percent shooting from the floor and Norfolk State to 27.3 percent.

“We're doing a better job of contesting shots, rebounding,” Florida assistant coach Norm Roberts said. “Our guards really rebounded the ball well and we didn't allow people to get comfortable.”

Defense was an issue for the Gators on and off throughout the regular season. Florida allowed four straight opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor before holding Kentucky to 45 percent from the field in its SEC Tournament semifinal loss.

“That Kentucky loss definitely did harden us,” Young said. “We really thought we had a chance to come away with that game. We put our heart and soul into that game and we had two or three minutes where we slipped up.

“We saw how good we could be from the 27 minutes that we played and we realized we needed to play 40 minutes every game.”

Donovan said he felt the Gators went through an adjustment period defensively after sophomore forward Will Yeguete went down for the season with a broken foot. The 6-foot-7 Yeguete is a relentless rebounder who can guard multiple positions and is disruptive in the front of UF's press.

“Guys who have been put into his position have a totally different respect level for what he does,” Donovan said.

Defense is going to need to continue to be a priority against Marquette. Donovan is concerned about Marquette's ability to get out in transition and finish at the basket.

Marquette (27-7) has won 15 of its last 18 games, but lost during its non-conference schedule to both LSU (67-59 in Baton Rouge) and Vanderbilt (74-57). Donovan said he may call Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings or LSU coach Trent Johnson for advice, but is relying on more recent film. Marquette's top two scoring options are senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom (18.5 ppg) and senior 6-foot-6, 235-pound forward Jae Crowder (17.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg). Crowder was named Big East Player of the Year.

“They've got great speed and quickness,” Donovan said. “People may look at their size and say they're undersized. I disagree. I think they are a great offensive rebounding team. They're an attack team. They push the ball very hard.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or Also check out Brockway's blog at

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top