Gators ready for SEC play after tough early slate
Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 6:04 p.m.
Florida just finished what Billy Donovan called the most challenging non-conference schedule in his 17 seasons as UF's coach.
Who: No. 11 Florida Gators (10-2, 0-0 SEC) vs. Georgia Bulldogs (6-7, 0-0 SEC)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center, Gainesville
Gainesville-area TV: CSS (Ch. 259, Cox Cable)
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
The No. 11 Gators (10-2) are hopeful those tests will prepare them for the grind of an expanded 18-game Southeastern Conference slate. Florida opens league play tonight at home against Georgia with confidence based on how it handled one of the toughest non-league schedules in the country.
“We've gone against a lot of different styles, played in a lot of different venues,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “We've had to travel quite a bit, played in some hostile environments and some neutral sites.”
The Gators also had their share of challenges in facing the 16th-strongest non-conference schedule in the country (according to CollegeRPI.com). Starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin missed UF's first two games of the season due to an undisclosed disciplinary suspension. Junior forward Casey Prather missed four games with a concussion, and senior forward Erik Murphy (broken rib) is out indefinitely.
Through different combinations, Florida posted impressive early-season wins over Wisconsin, Marquette and Florida State before slipping up late in a heartbreaking one-point loss at No. 4 Arizona. The following week, the Gators suffered a 67-61 loss to No. 18 Kansas State in Kansas City.
“I think the schedule has prepared us (for SEC play),” Florida junior forward Will Yeguete said.
Yeguete will step in to start at power forward until Murphy is fully healthy. On Sunday against Yale, Yeguete responded to the challenge with 14 points and nine rebounds.
“Getting Will Yeguete back to where he played (against Yale), with a level of intensity and passion and the things he's capable of doing, really, really helped our team,” Donovan said.
Florida also will be looking to avenge a 76-62 loss at Georgia last season. In the loss, Florida couldn't overcome an off shooting day. The Gators shot just 36.7 percent from the floor (22-of-60) and 21.7 percent (5-of-23) from 3-point range.
But Florida is getting hot just in time for SEC play. The Gators shot 52.9 percent from 3-point range (9-of-17) in their 79-58 win Sunday at Yale. Senior guard Kenny Boynton has made 11 of his last 17 3-point attempts, including an 8-for-10 game in the Yale win. Boynton's eight 3-pointers were the most for a Florida player since Greg Stolt went 8-of-15 from 3-point range against LSU on March 4, 1999.
“We definitely need that, going into SEC play,” Boynton said of UF's shooting. “It definitely came at the right time.”
Georgia coach Mark Fox is still wary of the problems that Florida presents. Fox said based on film, this is the best UF team he's seen in four years as Georgia's coach.
“I feel like we've played against Patric Young and Boynton forever,” Fox said. “They just have an element of experience with (Erik) Murphy and Young and Boynton, those guys have played in so many games. So I think the thing that stands out is their experience, their balance offensively. They have so many guys who can score the ball.”
Fox also is concerned about Florida's defense, which is holding teams to an SEC-best 52.7 points per game.
“They can just beat you in so many different ways,” Fox said. “I just think they are as complete and as good in every area as they've been since I've been coaching here.”
Georgia (6-7) comes into the game on a four-game winning streak after a rough 2-7 start that included losses to Youngstown State, Southern Mississippi and Iona. Sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring at 17.5 points per game, but no other Georgia starter averages in double figures. Boynton said that he and point guard Scottie Wilbekin will guard Caldwell-Pope throughout the game.
“We're starting two freshmen and a sophomore in the backcourt,” Fox said. “We're just relatively inexperienced. I think we've gotten better throughout the year which we've anticipated a younger team would, but we've certainly had a slow start we had to dig out of.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 13.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg
G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 11.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Jr. 8.7 ppg, 4.7 apg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Jr. 6.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 10.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg
GEORGIA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 6-5 So. 17.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg
G Vincent Williams 6-2 Sr. 4.2 ppg, 2.6 apg
F Brandon Morris 6-7 Fr. 3.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg
F Donte Williams 6-9 Jr. 5.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg
C John Florveus 6-11 Sr. 2.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg
Notes: Florida opens SEC play at home against Georgia. The Gators are 11-5 in SEC openers under Billy Donovan and 7-0 at home in SEC openers during that span. … Florida has won 15 of its last 18 games against Georgia, including 10 straight at home against the Bulldogs. … The Gators rank fourth in the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing just 52.7 points per game. Florida has held six opponents under 50 points and eight opponents under 60 points. … Senior Kenny Boynton (1,755 points) is 22 points shy of tying former teammate Erving Walker for fourth on UF's all-time scoring list. … Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin ranks second in the SEC in assists at 4.7 per game. Wilbekin's 10 assists Sunday against Yale were a career high and the most for a Florida player since Chandler Parsons had 10 against Cal-Santa Barbara in UF's opening game of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. … Georgia has struggled offensively early in the season, shooting just 41.4 percent from the floor and scoring 60.6 points per game.