Gators pull away from Dawgs
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 10:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 12:37 a.m.
ATHENS, Ga. — Florida junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin took what the defense gave him early.
Who: Florida at Mississippi State
When: Saturday at 8 p.m.
On TV: ESPN2
On Radio: WRUF
And the Gators woke up defensively late.
Wilbekin matched a career high with 17 points and No. 8 Florida (15-2, 5-0 SEC) rebounded from a shaky first half to beat rival Georgia (7-11, 1-4 SEC) 64-47 at Stegeman Coliseum.
“The way they were guarding pick and rolls, they were leaving the lane open,” Wilbekin said. “I was able to take advantage of that and make some some plays at the end of the (shot) clock.”
The crowd of 6,793 included Gator fans who did the “orange-blue” cheer throughout the game. But there was little for Florida to cheer about early.
Wilbekin scored 13 of his 17 points in the first half on a mix of pull-up jumpers and drives to the basket while the rest of the Gators sleep-walked in falling behind 27-24 at halftime.
Kenny Boynton added 14 points and senior forward Erik Murphy scored all 13 of his points in the second half. Florida held an opponent under 50 points for the ninth time this season.
Wilbekin also scored 17 points earlier this season in UF's 79-66 win over UCF on Nov. 23. The Gainesville native, more known for his defensive prowess, has averaged 15 points over his last two games. Wilbekin finished the night an efficient 7 of 9 from the floor and 2 of 3 from 3-point range
“It's pretty high right now,” Wilbekin said of his offensive confidence. “I just try to do what I can to read the defense and help our team. I'm always going to look to pass to somebody first, but if a shot is there I'm going to take it.”
Down 27-24 at halftime, Florida started the second half on a 13-4 run. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Wilbekin and Mike Rosario put Florida ahead 30-27. Patric Young followed with a dunk put-back off a Wilbekin miss in the lane.
“It felt like things were back to normal at that point,” Wilbekin said.
Boynton hit a 3-pointer to put Florida up 37-29. From there, the Gators maintained their defensive intensity while building their lead. Florida allowed just four Georgia points through the first 10 minutes of the second half.
“I give our guys credit,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “We made adjustments on pick and rolls because our coverages were not great in the first half. But I really thought our defense won the game for us in the second half. We were able to get five or six stops in a row early in the second half and that allowed us to pull away a little bit.”
Florida players and coaches preached the importance of not being overconfident after beating Georgia by 33 points two weeks ago at the O'Connell Center. But the Gators came out flat early against the Bulldogs. Georgia jumped to a quick 11-2 lead, keyed by 3-pointers from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Nemanja Djurisic. Patric Young picked up an early foul, putting the Gators in a defensive bind.
“They played harder than us,” Boynton said. “We expected it, but we didn't match their intensity early in the game and we made a few mistakes.”
The Gators cut Georgia's lead to 11-10 with an 8-0 run highlighted by their press. Two steals by Will Yeguete led directly to two straight transition baskets from Boynton and Wilbekin.
The two teams went back-and-forth for the rest of the first half. But after a questionable foul by freshman DeVon Walker with the score tied at 24, Georgia was able to hold for the last shot. Georgia sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit a 22-foot 3-pointer at the first half buzzer over a bewildered Wilbekin to put Georgia up 27-24 at halftime.
It was the first time the Gators trailed in the first half since being behind 33-23 at halftime in an eventual 67-61 to Kansas State on Dec. 22 in Kansas City. But Donovan almost expected it in his second meeting with Georgia coach Mark Fox in two weeks.
“I know if the roles were reversed, losing by 33 points, we would come out and give them their best shot early,” Donovan said. “Mark is a prideful guy and Georgia is a prideful team.”
Georgia went 6-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half. But Florida made a halftime adjustment and held Georgia to just one 3-point attempt (made by Caldwell-Pope) in the second half.
“We tried to push up and make every one of their players drive to the basket,” Boynton said.
Florida, which went 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the first half, answered with a 7 for 11 performance from beyond the arc in the final 20 minutes.
“Our shot selection wasn't great,” Donovan said. “Mike Rosario had a few of his shots blocked in the first half. I thought in the second half we did a much better job of reading their defense and we were able to get into a rhythm.”
Florida's press was once again effective, helping force 18 points off 17 Georgia turnovers. Donovan praised the effort of junior forward Will Yeguete off the bench, who had 7 points, 11 rebounds and 4 steals.
“What he does is not a glorified job,” Donovan said. “He does all of the dirty work. But I try to let him know every day how much he is appreciated on this team.”
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