Gators win 24th straight at home to open SEC play
Published: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at 8:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at 11:28 p.m.
It had all the makings of a joyous Southeastern Conference opener. Florida was up by more than 20 points late against South Carolina before a near-packed O'Connell Center ready to celebrate a convincing league win.
Florida at Arkansas, 1 p.m.
On TV: ESPN2
But senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin's ankle sprain in the closing minutes put a damper on UF's 74-58 win before 12,147 at the O'Dome. Wilbekin suffered the injury when he rolled his ankle on a drive to the basket with 2:50 remaining. Florida coach Billy Donovan said Wilbekin is questionable for UF's next game Saturday at Arkansas.
“They took him off the floor and iced it immediately,” Donovan said. “Right now, he's probably out (Thursday's) practice. We'll see where he is Friday.”
Wilbekin scored a team-high 17 points as the No. 10 Gators (12-2, 1-0 SEC) matched a school record with their 24th straight home record. But at issue was whether the 6-foot-2 senior point guard from Gainesville should have been in the game with Florida ahead by 23 points.
Donovan had a substitute ready to check in for Wilbekin when he was hurt and South Carolina coach Frank Martin still had the majority of his starters in the game.
“It was hard,” Donovan said. “When you have older guys and you get into a situation where I think we got outscored the last two minutes 11-3. You want to get guys off the floor, but you put some of those guys in the bench in there, it's difficult. Obviously, South Carolina, Frank's teams, the way he teaches and coaches, he's going to play those guys for 40 minutes and get after it and play hard.”
Donovan also said Wilbekin may have caused the injury himself by shooting in the lane off of one leg.
“He never really makes that shot, and he did such a good job all game long,” Donovan said. “But it's a matter of him listening.”
Other than Wilbekin's injury, Florida had plenty to feel good about during the game. Florida jumped to a 14-1 lead and scored 15 points off 15 South Carolina turnovers in the first half to build a 34-21 halftime lead. UF's press was effective, frustrating South Carolina (7-7, 0-1) into ill-advised passes and rushed shots.
“The young kids were tight and nervous,” said South Carolina coach Frank Martin, who started three freshmen. “My biggest concern going into this game was that first five to six minutes. Exactly what I was hoping didn't happen, happened.”
South Carolina whittled UF's lead to eight points in the second half before a final UF surge. After going 1-of-10 from 3-point range in the first half, Florida went 4-of-9 from beyond the arc in the second half to finish 5-of-19 for the game.
Casey Prather added 13 points for the Gators and Patric Young had 13 points, seven rebounds and three steals. The Gators outscored South Carolina 40-22 in the paint and 20-5 in fast-break points.
Young felt like the Gators led down at points during the game instead of sustaining their intensity for a full 40 minutes.
“We allow that human nature to kick in and us having that mindset of relaxing a little bit instead of having that killer mindset,” Young said.
Florida's 24-game home winning streak, which started Nov. 11 2012 with an 84-35 win over Alabama State, is the third longest in Division I. Stephen F. Austin currently holds the longest home win streak at 26 games. Duke is next at 25 straight at home. Missouri had its 26-game home win streak snapped with a stunning 80-74 overtime loss to Georgia on Wednesday night.
Florida will go for the school record when it next plays at home on Jan. 14 against Georgia. Florida last won 24 straight at home from March 1, 2006 to Nov. 23, 2007, a stretch that covered the second of its back-to-back national title seasons.
“We've been here for a minute, and it would be nice to do something special and keep that streak going,” Florida senior forward Will Yeguete said.
Florida will face an Arkansas team on Saturday that has won 23 straight at home. If Wilbekin can't go, McDonald's All-American Kasey Hill will start at point guard for the Gators. Hill had a solid SEC debut with five points, two assists and two steals.
But Young thinks Wilbekin will find a way to get on the court Saturday for UF's first SEC road game.
“He went to the basket hard and it was a minor ankle sprain,” Young said. “I think he's going to be alright. We've got the best trainers here, the best doctors. He'll work hard to try to get back.”
FREE THROWS: Florida had 4,182 students show up for Wednesday's win, a school record. The student attendance surpassed the previous record by more than 1,000. … South Carolina senior Brenton Williams, a Santa Fe College transfer, finished with 10 points and three steals. Junior guard Tyrone Johnson led the Gamecocks with 12 points.
Donovan wins FIBA award
Florida coach Billy Donovan was named a co-recipient of the 2013 USA Basketball National Coach of the Year.
Donovan led Team USA to a 9-0 record and gold medal at last summer's 2013 FIBA Under-19 World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic.
He shared the award with Miami women's basketball coach Katie Meier, who led the USA under-19 women to a gold medal as well.
"I'm very thankful to USA Basketball for the opportunity to coach this team and appreciative of this honor," Donovan said.