UConn backcourt a concern for Gators
Published: Monday, December 2, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 1, 2013 at 9:29 p.m.
The first player that comes to mind when college basketball fans talk about Connecticut is senior preseason All-American point guard Shabazz Napier.
Who: No. 15 Florida Gators (6-1) vs. No. 13 Connecticut Huskies (7-0)
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn.
Gainesville-area TV: ESPN2
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
But Florida coach Billy Donovan is concerned about the challenge the entire Connecticut backcourt presents. Napier, junior Ryan Boatright and sophomore Omar Calhoun constitute what some college basketball analysts consider the best group of guards in the country.
Containing Connecticut's explosive backcourt will be a key when the Gators play the Huskies tonight in Storrs, Conn.
“Napier is without question one of the elite point guards in the country,” Donovan said. “But it's not just him. This is a little bit different for us. Even last year going against a guy like Phil Pressey, the ball was in his hands a lot. I think they have three guys they can put the ball in those guys' hands and those guys are really able to make plays.”
Added senior forward Casey Prather: “Their guards are very quick, explosive, athletic. So it's going to show what our team is made of.”
Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin hasn't backed down from many defensive challenges, facing Pressey and Michigan point guard Trey Burke last season. But Donovan said it will take more of a team effort to deal with Connecticut's guards.
“They are going to be in a lot of pick-and-roll action and our big guys are going to have to do a good job of providing help,” Donovan said. “We're going to have to do a good job of shrinking the floor and helping on rolls and, obviously, when shots are going up, doing a good job of rebounding the basketball.''
Once again, Florida is heading on the road short-handed. Sophomore guard DeVon Walker (sprained foot) did not practice Saturday and is doubtful for the game. Walker was in uniform but did not play in UF's 67-66 win Friday night against Florida State.
“If he is able to go, we may throw him in there for some minutes to give some guys a breather or a blow because the one area right now where we lack depth is in the backcourt,” Donovan said.
Junior guard Eli Carter, still hobbled in his recovery from a broken leg, played two minutes against Florida State and finished 0-of-2 from the floor with a turnover. The Gators have until Dec. 10 against Kansas to decide whether to shut Carter down and give him a medical redshirt this season.
“That's probably something that's going to happen,” Donovan said. “We'll go for that. But right now, I think he's just trying to see, can he get better? The hard part, the frustrating part, is that we've kind of hit a stalemate with him in terms of his recovery where he's not making the same level of progress he had made like a month ago.”
Point guard Kasey Hill (high ankle sprain) walked into the Florida basketball practice facility without a boot, but the timetable of his return remains mid-December.
“Right now, we're basically down to six scholarship guys,” Donovan said.
Offensively,' Florida is getting scoring from the perimeter from sophomore guard Michael Frazier, who is shooting 53.7 percent (22-41) from 3-point range this season. Wilbekin has 15 assists over his first two games but went 2 of 12 from the floor against Florida State. Donovan said he felt his 6-foot-2 point guard could have made better decisions while driving in the lane.
“He made that first running layup and he scored right away and then after that, the way they were collapsing and helping, there were so many opportunities for him to move the basketball and find another guy,” Donovan said. “That was something we worked on yesterday. So it was good for him to see that on film. I think anytime you have a player that can get in the lane and into the teeth of the defense it always puts pressure on the defense. But from that point, you have to make good decisions.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 14.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 9.5 ppg, 7.5 apg
F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr. 19.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 9.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg
CONNECTICUT PROBABLE STARTERS
G Ryan Boatright 6-0 Jr. 11.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg
G Shabazz Napier 6-3 Sr. 15.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg
F Omar Calhoun So. 6-6 9.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg
F DeAndre Daniels Jr. 6-9 13.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg
C Phillip Nolan 6-10 So. 3.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg
Notes: Florida is playing Connecticut for just the second time in program history. … The last time the two teams met, the Gators upset UConn 69-60 in overtime in the Sweet 16 of the 1994 NCAA Tournament. … Florida is 1-1 on the road this season with a loss at Wisconsin and win at Jacksonville. … Florida guard Michael Frazier II is 10-for-14 (71.4 percent) from 3-point range over his last two games. … Florida forward Casey Prather is just one of three Gators under Billy Donovan to notch three games scoring 27 points or more in a season, joining Nick Calathes (2008-09) and Teddy Dupay (2000-01). … In his first two games of the season, point guard Scottie Wilbekin has notched eight steals. … Connecticut returns five starters from a team that finished 20-10 last season … The Huskies didn't play in the NCAA Tournament last season due to postseason sanctions levied due to poor APR scorers. … Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith is averaging 11.8 points and 8.6 rebounds off the bench. … The game marks the first of a home-and-home series with Connecticut. The Huskies will return to the O'Connell Center to face the Gators in 2014.