Gators in fine-tuning mode with SEC play a game away

Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin has just seven assists in the past three games. The Gators are seeking better ball movement and free-throw shooting Saturday against Richmond.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, January 4, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 3, 2014 at 8:04 p.m.

Florida is winding down non-conference play in position to contend for another league title.


Saturday's game

Who: No. 12 Florida Gators (10-2) vs. Richmond Spiders (10-4)
When: 3 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center, Gainesville
TV:CSS/CST (Ch. 259, Cox Cable, Gainesville)
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM

But the No. 12 Gators (10-2) still would like to clean up some things today in their non-conference finale at the O'Connell Center against Richmond (10-4).

The two areas of biggest concern — assists and free-throw shooting. Florida ranks 213th nationally in assists at 12.4 per game and 253rd nationally in free-throw percentage at 66.6 percent.

For a Gator team that has prided itself on ball movement and player movement in recent seasons, the low assist numbers would seem a cause for concern. But through 12 games, Florida has still maintained decent scoring balance, with four starters and five players overall averaging double figures in scoring.

Florida coach Billy Donovan said he thinks part of the issue has been integrating first-year starters Casey Prather, Michael Frazier II and Will Yeguete with established starters Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin.

“It's not an unwillingness as much as having a recognition of we're in transition and Frazier's got a free look, we've got to be able to find him,” Donovan said. “You know, Patric runs the floor hard and he's got good deep post position, we've got to find him. You know, Prather's out on the break in transition and he's got an angle, we've got to find him. It's more those things.”

At the point guard spot, senior Scottie Wilbekin and freshman Kasey Hill have been unselfish. Hill is averaging 3.6 assists per game after a five-assist game in UF's 76-34 win over Savannah State. Wilbekin, second in the Southeastern Conference in assists last season at 5.0 per game, is averaging 4.3 assists this season. Of late, though, Wilbekin hasn't been able to consistently find players off the dribble, with just seven assists in his last three games.

“He hasn't had an enormous amount of assists, but he hasn't had an enormous amount of turnovers,” Donovan said. “If you look at his role prior to this being his senior year, most of it he carved out his niche as a defender. Right now his role has evolved where he's doing some scoring, he's defending, he's driving, he's having to assist … there is probably more on his plate.”

Donovan is pleased that Florida has kept a positive assist-to-turnover ratio (12.4-11.4) and said he thinks some of UF's low assist numbers have been a result of being a better team driving to the basket. The Gators are getting to the free-throw line an average of 25.2 times per game.

“Some of our points have come off drives, they've come off offensive rebounds, they've come at the free-throw line,” Donovan said. “We're shooting a decent percentage on the 3(-point range) and from the field, but I just believe we can do better.”

Hill and sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith also have tried to establish chemistry with UF's returning players. Finney-Smith, who found Prather for a pretty alley-oop pass in the second half of UF's win over Savannah State, is averaging 1.4 assists per game.

“We're an unselfish team, but sometimes the ball gets stagnant,” Finney-Smith said. “We're a better team when the ball is hopping from hand to hand. We're starting to learn that by watching a lot of film.”

As for free throws, Donovan has asked all of his players to take extra ones in practice this week. After Richmond, Florida will begin the grind of SEC play Wednesday at home against South Carolina. From January through early March, Florida will play twice a week.

“We're always going to work on it,” Donovan said. “Nothing's really changed. We try to put our guys in pressure situations. We try to put them at the free-throw line in special situations where you've got to make free throws. We try to do a lot of that stuff. That's going to be a constant all the time.”

Walker still out

Donovan said freshman forward Chris Walker still hasn't been cleared by the NCAA and won't be eligible to play against Richmond. It will be the fourth straight game the 6-foot-10 forward from Bonifay has sat out since joining the Gators for practice on Dec. 16.

“Our school has been (working) with the NCAA on it,” Donovan said. “It obviously was a hard time with the holidays with Christmas and New Year's, so they may be still in the process of working.”

Asked if Walker's clearance has dragged out longer than expected, Donovan responded: “When he got here in the middle of December, I was never given a timetable, never given a date, never given a game when he would be back. So it's one of those things where are school is working with the NCAA and I'm sure they'll come to some agreement on what will actually happen.”

Donovan said the practice time has been valuable for Walker.

“I want him to be ready to play for him,” Donovan said. “But it's not something that I say, 'Well, we've really got to have you right now. This is really going to change our team.' It's not that way at all. He's got a long, long way to go. His attitude has been good. He's picking things up. He's getting better. But he needs a few weeks of practice, at least.”

Murphy practicing

Donovan said Duke transfer Alex Murphy began practicing with the Gators this week. Murphy won't be eligible to appear in games until next December due to NCAA rules, though he's applying for a waiver to try to eligible for games by next fall.

Donovan said Murphy, the younger brother of former Gator standout forward Erik Murphy, has made a strong first impression in practice.

“He's got very, very good ball-handling skills,” Donovan said. “He's totally different than Erik. He doesn't shoot the ball like Erik does, although I think he's got potential to get better in that area. He's much, much more skilled in terms of putting it on the floor and driving it, making plays. He's got really, really good vision. He can see. He's a big body. He's strong. We haven't put him in situations where he's had to play in and around the basket a lot. He's more of a perimeter player right now.”


G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 11.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg

G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 12.0 ppg, 4.3 apg

F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr. 17.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg

F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg

C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg


G Kendall Anthony 5-8 Jr. 13.0 ppg, 1.6 apg

G Cedrick Lindsay 6-1 Sr. 18.6 ppg, 4.3 apg

F Trey Davis 6-5 So. 5.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg

F Derrick Williams 6-6 Sr. 5.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg

F A. Nelson-Ododa 6-9 So. 7.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg

Notes: Florida is facing Richmond for the fourth time in program history. The Gators are 1-2 all-time against Richmond and 0-1 under Billy Donovan. In the last meeting between the two schools, Richmond knocked off Florida 56-53 in the 2009 Orange Bowl Classic. … Florida has won 22 straight at home, the fifth-longest active home win streak in the country behind Missouri (25 games), Arkansas (24 games), Duke (24 games) and Stephen F. Austin (24 games). … Senior UF forward Casey Prather leads the Southeastern Conference in two-point field goals (77), ahead of Kentucky freshman forward Julius Randle (75) and Missouri junior guard Jordan Clarkson (71). … Prather also leads the SEC in field-goal percentage (62.4 percent), while sophomore guard Michael Frazier II leads the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage (50 percent, 30 of 60) . … Florida leads the SEC in scoring defense, giving up just 58.8 points per game. … Richmond returns three starters from a team that finished 19-15 last season. … The Spiders run a deliberate Princeton-style offense heavy on ball movement, cuts and backdoor passes. … Like Florida, Richmond is an excellent defensive team. The Spiders are holding opponents to 39.4 percent from the field and 28.3 percent from 3-point range.

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