Gators' D a must-see


Florida center Patric Young and Florida forward Will Yeguete, right, play defense against a South Carolina player.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 12:53 a.m.

I could give you all kinds of statistics to illustrate how well Florida has played defensively this year. I could show you where they rank nationally and in the SEC. I could recite numbers like points allowed per game and shooting percentages for the opposition.

Or I could just give you the most impressive number from Wednesday night — Florida limited South Carolina to the fewest points the Gamecocks have scored in their 21-year SEC history.

But really, the numbers are just props. To really understand how well this team is playing defensively, you have to watch them do it.

And I don't mean the highlight-reel stuff where there's a block on one end and a dunk at the other (although that did happen Wednesday night against South Carolina). I mean the possession-after-possession relentless combination of effort, skill and basketball IQ.

The first half against South Carolina was a defensive clinic. Just four days ago, the Gamecocks scored 75 points and made 30 field goals in a win over Arkansas. On Wednesday, they made three field goals in the first half.

Every possession looked like torture for Frank Martin's team. It started with a pair of turnovers and didn't get much better. The Gamecocks wouldn't have reached double figures if Mike Rosario had not hung on the rim after a dunk and given them two free throws late in the first half.

The second half was more of the same.

There are several reasons why Florida is playing such great defense and certainly one of them is that they haven't exactly been going up against LeBron and Kobe. Still, to do what they are doing would be impressive against the guys at the YMCA.

“I think that was our best defensive game of the year,” said guard Scottie Wilbekin.

It's a combination of things that are working for these Gators defensively, and it usually is with a great defensive team. This isn't one of those great shot-blocking teams (in SEC games, Florida ranks 10th in the conference in blocked shots and Kentucky has almost three times more), but they make life uncomfortable around the basket.

The turn you over with the press, but here is one thing I have seen with this team that hasn't always been a strength of Donovan defenses — even when the opponent beats the press, it rarely results in fast-break points. Including last night, Florida has allowed six fast-break points or fewer in 16 of 19 games.

“Our guys understand when we practice the press that they have to rehearse making decisions on their own,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan.

Certainly, the experience this team has is a huge factor because these guys have been around long enough to know that it's fun to make 3s and dunks, but you still have to defend whether you make or miss.

It's rare that a team is this good defensively without a bunch of upperclassmen.

“I think that's 80 percent of it,” said guard Kenny Boynton. “We've been to two straight Elite Eights so the guys understand the mentality of defense. You have a lapse on defense, it can cost you.”

It helps to have a guy like Patric Young, who covers so much ground for a big man when teams try to set screens.

And it helps to have a pretty good offense, too. With the exception of the game at Georgia, the Gators have rolled to big leads early and put their opponents into almost a panic mode.

“What allows them to be so good on defense is how good they are on offense,” said South Carolina coach Frank Martin.

And that's another way the offense helps the defense. Florida doesn't take a bunch of bad shots so the defenders are in position on the other end.

You put it all together, and the numbers make sense.

“They're rock solid,” said Martin. “They're sound. Their defense is always where it belongs.”

There is still a long way to go in this season, and there are better offensive teams on the horizon starting Saturday with Ole Miss.

But the way this defense is playing, well, you've just got to see it.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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