Gators roll past Fresno State, 66-49


Published: Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 6:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 11:49 p.m.

SUNRISE — Dealing with tight rims at the BB&T Center, Florida needed a strong defensive effort Saturday against Fresno State in the Metro PCS Orange Bowl Classic.

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Florida's Casey Prather (24) scores against Fresno State's Tanner Giddings (5) and Alex Davis at the Orange Bowl Classic on Saturday in Sunrise. Florida won 66-49. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

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The No. 16 Gators got it in a 66-49 win over Fresno State. Florida limited the Bulldogs to just 32 percent from the floor, 23.5 percent shooting (4-17) from 3-point range and outrebounded undersized Fresno State 47-24.

“This was probably our best game defensively from start to finish against a team that, certainly offensively, can put some numbers up and shoot the ball well from behind the 3-point line,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.

Fresno State (6-6) came into Saturday scoring 76.2 points per game. But Florida finally played the kind of defense Donovan has been seeking throughout the season. Florida players closed out on shooters aggressively at the 3-point line, policed the rim and limited Fresno State to just one shot.

“We take a lot of pride when we hold a team under 50 points,” Florida senior center Patric Young said. “And that was the first one we've had this year.”

Casey Prather led Florida with 16 points to earn game MVP honors. But Donovan said he felt the most underrated player of the game was senior forward Will Yeguete, who finished with nine points and a season-high 10 rebounds for a near double-double.

“It felt good,” said Yeguete, who is rounding into form after undergoing offseason knee surgery. “I got myself going, especially offensively. I felt pretty good out there today.”

But Florida needed Prather's offense early to survive a rough-shooting first half. The Gators shot just 29 percent from the field (9-31) and 1 of 13 from 3-point range, settling for jumpers over Fresno State's zone. Prather scored 10 first-half points, while the rest of UF's starters went a combined 2 of 19 from the field.

Still, the Gators led 23-19 at halftime.

“We just had to keep guarding them,” Yeguete said. “I think we did a really good job defensively. So we needed to focus on that. We knew our shots were going to come.”

In Florida State's 60-55 win over No. 22 Massachusetts in the opening game of the Orange Bowl Classic doubleheader, FSU players complained about the tight rims impacting shooting at the BB&T Center.

“The rims were a little different here,” Yeguete said. “It is a little tight but you had to get used to it. I think tonight we kept going inside instead of just shooting 3s. In the second half we did a better job driving the ball.”

To start the second half, Florida went on a 7-0 run which included a pair of driving baskets from Prather and a 3-pointer from Michael Frazier II. From there, Florida extended its lead to as many as 26 points before bringing the walk-ons in late. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin overcame a poor first-half offensively to finish with 11 points and three assists.

“The biggest difference in the second half is we had much more action at the basket and at the rim,” Donovan said.

Prather, who came into Saturday sixth in the SEC in scoring at 18.7 points per game, has reached double-figures in scoring in all 11 of UF's games this season.

“It's awesome because he's so athletic, his height and what he can bring to the table,” Young said.

Prather said he's just trying to stay aggressive and pick his spots on offense.

“I'm just trying to keep moving in the right direction, doing whatever I can for my team,” Prather said.

The Gators (9-2) won their fourth straight overall before 7,248 in the South Florida event. Florida will return to the O'Connell Center in the first time in more than two weeks for its next game Dec. 29 against Savannah State.

“This is a hard time for everybody because you are dealing with final exams are over with, there's no one on campus, people making plans to go home,” Donovan said. “But I thought for the most part our guys played pretty well.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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