Gators intense on defense
Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 21, 2013 at 10:51 p.m.
Florida has built the foundation of its 2012-13 men's basketball team on defense.
And there has been no dropoff in defensive intensity through UF's first four Southeastern Conference games this season. The Gators have held their first four SEC opponents to an average of 48.8 points on 34 percent shooting.
It's a big reason why No. 8 Florida (14-2, 4-0 SEC) is tied for first in the league with Ole Miss heading into Wednesday night's game at Georgia.
“Our guys have done a good job at this point in time, preparation, scouting, personnel, understanding what teams are going to try to do,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
It helps to have the pieces in place to have a strong defensive team. Florida junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin is making an early case for SEC defensive player of the year by shutting down both Texas A&M shooting guard Elston Turner (4 points on 1-10 shooting) and Missouri point guard Phil Pressey (2 points, 6 assists, 10 turnovers) in the same week. Turner had scored 40 points his previous game against Kentucky, while Pressey came into the Florida game leading the SEC in assists at 7.3 per game.
“It's unbelievable,” Florida senior forward Erik Murphy said. “The guy just comes out and guards. I don't think I've ever played with a guy who can guard on the ball like that on any level — high school, AAU or college.”
Donovan said that Wilbekin ranks with Justin Hamilton and Corey Brewer among the best on-the-ball defenders that he's coached.
“He's got that mentality where he really takes on challenges to defend,” Donovan said. “He's made our defense a lot better, because, one, he's got really, really good feet. He can move his feet and keep people in front. He's a physical guard and a hard guy to screen. If he does get screened, he's got a real good ability to get around that, off contact and get back on the ball.”
Wilbekin's mentality has carried over to the rest of UF's backcourt. Senior Kenny Boynton has remained a consistently strong on-ball defender throughout his career. But guard Mike Rosario, a liability on defense last season, has become a better on-ball defender in his senior season.
Rosario's 15 steals are tied for fourth in the team with Boynton. Early in the Missouri game, Rosario stripped the ball away from Pressey on the press and converted the turnover into two points on a wide-open layup.
“It's been incredible for me to just have that mindset on just locking in on the defensive end and I feel like I feed off that positive energy from Casey (Prather), Kenny, Pat (Young), Will (Yeguete) and Scottie,” Rosario said. Those are our best defenders. I'm the next guy that they need to buy in on the defensive end and I feel like I've been taking on that challenge and I'm embracing it.”
In its four SEC wins, Florida is also averaging 9.3 steals per game by playing a mix of zone, man and full-court press defense. The Gators will continue to mix and match defenses throughout the season depending on the teams they face.
“The game against (Texas) A&M was totally different than the game against Missouri,” Donovan said. “The game against LSU was totally different than the one against Georgia. And there'll be some differences here in this next Georgia game that we'll have to look at doing differently than we did the opening night in SEC play."
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