Gators survive non-conference test with Spiders
Published: Saturday, January 4, 2014 at 5:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 6, 2014 at 12:28 a.m.
After another stagnant first half in which Florida finished with just four assists to six turnovers, Florida coach Billy Donovan challenged senior Scottie Wilbekin.
South Carolina at Florida, 7 p.m.
The message Saturday — start playing like a point guard.
Wilbekin and the rest of the No. 12 Gators responded with more ball movement and player movement in the second half. It eventually paid off. Florida survived some shaky stretches with solid defense late to hold off pesky Richmond 67-58 before 12,012 at the O’Connell Center.
Afterward, Donovan blamed himself for his team’s lack of focus in the final tuneup before Wednesday’s Southeastern Conference opener against South Carolina.
“I was disappointed (in our play) having a week off to prepare,” Donovan said. “I thought we had some good practices, and I thought today was a focus day where your mind starts wandering and you’re not going to play at a level that you are capable of playing at.
“I didn’t think we had any leadership at all from our seniors in the first half. I thought it was much better in the second half.”
Still, Florida (11-2) found a way to extend its home win streak to 23 straight games. The Gators trailed by as many as four points in the second half and were down 48-45 when Derrick Williams hit an inside layup with 6:59 remaining. Wilbekin then responded with a running baseline jumper and Casey Prather scored on a layup off an assist from Wilbekin to put Florida back up 49-48.
Richmond (10-5) took its last lead, 50-49, on a 13-foot jumper from Alonzo Nelson-Ododa with 4:48 left. But Florida answered with an 11-0 run, holding Richmond scoreless for more than three minutes down the stretch. Patric Young and Prather made back-to-back three-point plays during the run, and Dorian Finney-Smith hit a 3-pointer to put UF up 58-50.
“We did make a few mistakes, but we did make up for them defensively as well,” Young said. “We probably shouldn’t have let them stay in the game for as much as they did, but overall our defense did close it out for us.”
Michael Frazier II led four UF scorers in double figures with 18 points. Young added 15 points and six rebounds. Prather scored 10 points, and Wilbekin scored eight of his 10 points in the second half after going 1 of 9 from the floor in the first half.
Florida led by as many as seven points in the first half, but led just 25-23 at halftime. Florida went just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the first half. Shots inside were hard to come by, too. In a desperate flurry to beat the first-half buzzer, both Finney-Smith and Prather missed easy putback attempts.
“At the start of the game we were just flat,” Frazier said. “We didn’t have a lot of energy.”
Added Donovan: “Our guys could not make a post move, a layup or anything in the lane.”
Donovan said he felt the final 12-minute stretch of the first half was a case of the Gators not finding and utilizing each other, which has been a season-long issue. Florida came into the game averaging 12.4 assists per game.
“Our offense, what we were doing, just stopped,” Donovan said. “We became a one-on-one team. We just started driving the ball with no purpose, no awareness of what was going on.”
Defensively, Florida maintained its intensity for long enough stretches. The Gators held Richmond to 43.6-percent shooting from the floor and 36-percent shooting from 3-point range (9 of 25).
Florida was burned by Richmond’s starting backcourt tandem of Cedrick Lindsay and Kendall Anthony. Lindsay hit several floaters in the lane over Florida defenders to finish with 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting. The 5-foot-8 Anthony, doing his best Erving Walker impersonation, added 15 points.
Florida survived another off night from the 3-point line (5 of 19) and free-throw line (10 of 19) by outscoring Richmond 38-20 in the paint. The Gators went just 2 of 8 from the free-throw line in the final minute, with both Prather and Finney-Smith missing two straight attempts.
UF’s normally opportunistic defense had just seven points off turnovers and seven fast-break points. But it was enough.
“We just grinded,” Frazier said. “It was a grind-out game.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or email@example.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.